University drops investigation of composer Bright Sheng for showing 1965 film of “Othello”

Posted on: October 21, 2021

“Bright Sheng faced student uproar after he showed his fall seminar class a movie with blackface in it,” writes Samuel Dodge in Wednesday’s (10/20) MLive (Ann Arbor). “The University of Michigan music professor and renowned composer apologized multiple times for his actions, sometimes in ways that angered students more. He stepped down from teaching his class and faced a review by the university’s Title IX office for discrimination…. The UM Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office informed Sheng it ‘will not be opening up an investigation into his curriculum decision’ … [on] Oct. 19…. The controversy surrounds Sheng showing the 1965 movie ‘Othello’ on Sept. 10 to his undergraduate music composition seminar class. The film adaptation of the William Shakespeare play stars Laurence Olivier as the title character … and features Olivier in blackface. Students expressed their shock about the portrayal to Sheng, adding that no cultural context or content warnings were given prior to viewing. This led to Sheng sending an email on Sept. 10, apologizing for showing footage that ‘was racially insensitive and outdated.’… Sheng is a world-renowned composer, conductor and pianist … a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize [in Music].”