Actress Pearl talks about how she is inspired by Paul Robeson, the first black man to perform the part of Shakespeare’s Othello.
This story was made as part of the “Recalling Robeson” project, celebrating the life and work of black actor, singer and campaigner, Paul Robeson. Led by Anna Farthing of Harvest Heritage Arts and Media, supported by Bristol Old Vic, Colston Hall, Watershed, Pervasive Media Studio, ABLAZE, Aim Higher, Festival of Idea, The Paul Robeson Wales Trust, The South Wales
Miners Library, and numerous volunteers.
My name is Pearl Macky and I’m a student at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School at the moment. Paul Robeson was obviously a very inspirational man. He fought very hard and had quite a struggle to fight for the representation of black people on camera and in theatre as well.
When I was about 6 or 7 I think I remember seeing on the wall there was a photograph, a drawing in fact of a black man, Paul Robeson with Paul Robeson as Othello written underneath it, and I asked my Mum what that was and she explained to me that it was quite a big thing for Paul Robeson to have played Othello as a black man because they used to obviously have white men blacking up and I found that fascinating. I couldn’t understand why on earth they didn’t allow black men to play a black character, but to me personally as young black actress it reminds of the struggle that women had for representation at the time.
I think the career of Hattie McDaniel is quite an interesting one to compare with Paul Robeson’s. She was the first black actress to be nominated for an Oscar and win an Oscar for best supporting actress in the film Gone With The Wind. Whilst that’s a fantastic achievement for a black actress - for any black person at the time - the role that she won it for was a very very stereotyped perception of black person. The ‘Mammy’ character was a very stock character in Hollywood films at the time and was sort of the only opening that many black women had.
Black women are still struggling for representation in the different jobs and obviously the wide range of places that they occupy in society, in British cinema and Television and obviously in Hollywood mainstream television as well.