mlkKatori Hall, the acclaimed Playwright who wrote The Mountaintop, a 2009 play set in Memphis’ Lorraine Motel on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, is rightfully angry that a director cast a white actor in the role of King.

In a blog post for The Root, Hall writes:

Imagine my surprise when, on Oct. 4, 2015, at midnight in London, I received an email from a colleague sending me a link to Kent State University’s amateur production of the play. The actor playing King stood there, hands outstretched, his skin far from chocolate but a creamy buff. At first glance I was like, “Unh-uh, maybe he light-skinned. Don’t punish the brother for being able to pass.” But further Googling told me otherwise.

Director Michael Oatman had indeed double-cast the role of King with a black actor and a white actor for a six-performance run at the university’s Department of Pan-African Studies African Community Theater. Kent State had broken a world record; it was the first Mountaintop production to make King white.

According to Hall, neither Oatman, the Creative Director of the African Community Theater, nor Kent State contacted her before making the decision, a choice she considers “disrespectful.” Hall learned about the decision only after the play had closed.

In August, Oatman reinforced the decision to cast both a white and black actor as a “true exploration of King’s wish that we all be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin.” Needless to say, Hall remains unimpressed. In an interview with the Guardian, she said:

“I just really feel as though it echoes this pervasive erasure of the black body and the silencing of a black community – theatrically and also, literally, in the world.”

In response to Kent State’s decision, Hall has updated The Mountaintop’s licensing agreement to indicate that the role of Martin Luther King, Jr. must be played by a black actor. Any other casting decisions now require her approval.

Do you see anything wrong with a white actor playing the role of an iconic African American civil rights leader? Do you agree with Katori?

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  • Guest

    And the award for best attempt at whitewashing goes to….

  • Jo ‘Mama’ Besser

    He has a dream of growing a man bun.

  • Mahogany

    People have no shame

  • GoldenGirl

    Are you freaking kidding me!!!! Really!!! Now they are appropriating Martin Luther King Jr, and we are suppose to be alright with that!! But oh no, don’t cast a FICTIONAL comic book character as Black, then the internet is all up in arms!!!!! I’ve had IT!!!!!

  • Mary Burrell

    I have to reconsider something in regards to this and i may be in the minority here. I think it’s an interesting choice the director made. I wonder if this is what the term taking creative license is about. I really have to be honest and have an open mind in regards to this choice of casting a white actor as MLK. This is art and there is no right or wrong in art. But on the other hand i can also understand the playwright being upset and her reasons for disagreeing. It’s definitely outside the box.