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Cultural Appropriation and Shakespeare?

So we went to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival to see Macbeth last night, and the more I think about it the more WTELF about it I am. They decided to set the play in 1980s Afghanistan, transforming Duncan and co. into Russians (they changed every reference to England to Russia, but kept the Scottish names which I thought didn't gel at all) and....okay I wasn't sure if everyone else was supposed to be Afghani or not. I mean, they had all the decorations and stuff, but everyone was really white.

Except for the three witches (a guy, a woman in a long tunic and pants, and a woman in a burqa), who were in a crapload of bronzer.

Which. Um. Works out well for no one?

Anyway, lots of fake shooting, sacks-over-the-heads before murdering, etc. etc. Macduff's family was done away with by having the eldest boy shot, and the other two kids drenched in gasoline and then locked in a building with a set match while Lady Macduff ran offstage screaming as it was made clear the killers were going to rape and then kill her. (The audience was very uncomfortable during this sequence.)

At the conclusion, Malcolm becomes king, then there's a pause, the lighting changes, and the three witches put a "king's robe" on one of the minor characters to make it clear He's Getting An Idea, then lights out.

We agreed that the shift in setting made no sense, nor was it even interesting; the best part of Macbeth is his conflict about things, and this version had him pretty all "I'mma be a king!" really quickly--except in Afghanistan, there's no (and never has been, right? It's been largely nomadic cultures? Or am I making that up?) singular king, and if they wanted to change it to make it clear it was a Talibanic reference, they could have used another term instead, just like they used "Russia" for "England."

And really, I'm most bothered by the use of cultural appropriation/race. Lady Macbeth was blonde but dressed throughout in Afghani clothing--was she supposed to be Russian or was this just happenstance of casting? And again, the three "brown" witches in an otherwise clearly-marked white cast irked me; the more so, as I pointed out to Scott, as these actors were all in Richard II Friday night and no one had to put on brownface for that.

Anyways, does anyone else have any deep thoughts on this?


( 5 comments — Add your .02 )
Jul. 21st, 2013 04:58 pm (UTC)
That sounds like an idea that should have been abandoned 30 seconds after it was thought of, not taken to such nauseating brownface extremes. Yech.
Jul. 21st, 2013 06:08 pm (UTC)
The more I keep thinking about it the more "WTF" I go. WHAT were they thinking, WHY were they thinking it?? Maybe it's a sincere Stephen Colbertesque "we don't see race"?!?! Do. Not. Get!

It's especially surreal since, well, I call Boulder the Land of the Fireflies as it's a fuckton of white people with Asian accoutrements. And I keep wanting to yell "YOUR WHITE PRIVILEGE MAKES ME REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE!" (then I feel weird because I'm white but in my history haven't been coded white until very recently because Class Is A Thing)

Basically everything's very uncomfortable and can we just hurry up and live in the original Star Trek, please, because 2013 is just a misery.
Jul. 22nd, 2013 03:52 am (UTC)
My big issue (which I think I've touched on on Facebook, but I don't talk about it much there because at one point some of our erstwhile classmates decided I was the embodiment of white male privilege in the department and started making lots of assumptions about me. It was a Thing.) is that race and class get conflated, so we talk about race when we really mean class sometimes, and vice versa. For example, all the railing about entitlement programs, from the signing of the Civil Rights Act on, have this subtext of "we don't want _them_ getting our money." Reagan's welfare queens, that sort of thing. Likewise, folks on the left tend to talk about affirmative action when they're really talking about equality of opportunity for the lower classes. It's all sorts of messed up, and as someone whose background is pretty much WASPy middle/upper-middle class dude from SoCal, it doesn't leave me with much room to talk what I see in that regard. I kind of feel like I don't get a voice because I'm either the default or the oppressor, depending on people's points of view. Which is way better than being the guy being oppressed, so I don't feel bad for myself, but it is annoying.

All of that said, your description of this play makes me think that someone was trying to do social commentary poorly, which is never fun to watch.
Jul. 21st, 2013 06:32 pm (UTC)
It sounds like a horrible trainwreck.
Jul. 21st, 2013 09:14 pm (UTC)
...whut? o_O

No, no deep thoughts. I can almost imagine a version where someone might want to try and use MacBeth to explore colonialist themes (Like.... I don't know. Watch the colonial powers fight for power among themselves, with fighting and murdering and backstabbing?) and even that seems like it would be destined to fall flat on its face.
( 5 comments — Add your .02 )

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