If while doing a bit of research on Othello, one checked in with Wikipedia, the following would be taken as fact: the first big screen adaptation of Mr. Shakespeare’s play that starred an African American man took place in 1995 with Laurence Fishburne in the lead role.
Martha’s Vineyard, however, proves once again to be ahead of the times.
In the 1960s, a Vineyard film director mounted an all-African American performance of Othello. Not only was the entire cast black, so was the production team. The film starred Yaphet Kotto as Othello, an actor who went on to a long career in film and television including roles in Live and Let Die, Alien and Homicide: Life on the Street.
On Thursday, August 2, The Martha’s Vineyard Museum will screen this film which was directed by Liz White. Ms. White worked for the WPA Federal Negro Theatre in stage management and wardrobe, dressing stars such as Judy Holliday, Jennifer Jones and Lauren Bacall.
Her Vineyard roots went back to her grandfather, a former slave, who settled in the Shearer estate in Oak Bluffs after being freed. When Ms. White inherited the estate, she turned it into a resort for black vacationers. Then she turned it into a movie set. Other scenes were filmed at the Gay Head cliffs and other Island beaches.
The film will be shown at the Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $10 for museum members and $15 for nonmembers. For tickets call 508-627-4441.