viernes, 7 de octubre de 2016


Word of Tracy reveals more details on her playground pre-teen version of Shakespeare's outpost thriller for the Hogarth project, including the now official title (which, IMOHO, sounds a tad racist :o ), her ideas on otherness, and the names of some child characters (if you haven't recognized who Osei, Dee, Ian, and Mimi should be... may the Lord of Light smite you unbelievers!):


In Tracy Chevalier's retelling of the play, we are transported to 1970s Washington, D.C., where an 11-year-old black boy arrives at an all-white school. But it's when his attention is drawn to one of the girls in class that the trouble really begins.

It felt SO good. The new book is a retelling of Shakespeare's OTHELLO and is called BLACK BOY. Set on a US school playground around 1974, it features an 11-year-old Afro boy named Osei, a girl named Dee, her friend Mimi, and the school bully Ian (all the characters except Osei are Caucasian, for more info). It is also a nostalgia trip for me, including Big Buddy Bubble Gum, Now and Laters, the Jackson Five, Roberta Flack, Hot Wheels, and bell bottoms with flowered embroidery on the hem. Ah, the 1970s...
(NOTE BY SANDRA: As a European, I only recognize the Jackson 5, Hot Wheels, and bell bottoms. The rest is that US stuff you have to google, as I always do with referents of US or Japanese culture I encounter for the first time in fiction).
Now of course I have editing to do, because a book always needs editing. You can work all you like on your own, but it's only when someone has read it that you know if it works or not. And there is always something that needs fixing.
The play isn’t even really about race. This story would work if Othello were Jewish in a Muslim community, or a Korean in China. Racial difference is just one example of the outsider status Desdemona is seduced by, and that is what I find so compelling about the play. It is a state we can all relate to, as we have all been outsiders at some point, whether as the new student in class, the new employee at a job, the newest member of a church or an exercise class or a football team. It’s hard being new.
Sometimes you can shake off that label relatively quickly: you learn your job, you find your place on the team. You fit in. Othello, however, will always have black skin in a white world. It will take much longer to get his friends, his family, his comrades to become colour-blind – if ever. Remember, Desdemona is attracted to him because he’s black. Some outsider status sticks.
That is what draws me to Othello: despite his military prowess and his smitten wife, he is so vulnerable. It only takes a bully like Iago, with his own murky agenda, to stick his finger into the wound and press. Shakespeare complicates matters with fights and lost handkerchiefs – he has three hours to fill on stage – but really the story boils down to one man saying to another, “Are you sure she likes you?” Planting that one seed of doubt brings down the whole edifice of a person’s character.
The simplicity of that template  – you are different, which makes you vulnerable, and I’m going to take advantage of that – means Othello’s story can take place anywhere – because it already does. I am writing a novel inspired by Othello, and decided to transplant the story to that most elemental place – the school playground. A Ghanaian boy named Osei joins an all-white US school and attracts the attention both of Dee, who is fascinated by his otherness, and Ian, the school bully whose territory is threatened. And so another fundamental human story gets played out…

Looking back at what I wrote this springtime, half a year ago:

So... how will Othello's ethnic descent be played? Will he be Sub-Saharan, Middle Eastern, Asian, Abie/Maori... or a Caucasian among non-Caucasians (I've got a boarding-school animesque retelling with a blond and blue-eyed Frenchman, Elliot, among Asians!)? The outsider who has risen to the top of the pops (my guess) and is dating one of the local Ashleys (man, I luved the Ashleys and the Tylers!)... Another, even more awesome decision would be making Othello another minority: a disabled person (an aspie would be awesome), seropositive (due to a blood transfusion: this was before the HIV scare)... or even female (a female Iago, or "Iako," like I read of in a novel, would be awesome, and an "Othella" would be even more... heck, even the "Othella and Desmond" approach of getting the whole cast through Rule 63, like Tarantino did in Switchblade Sisters [Othello completely gender-flipped with high-school "bad girls," courtesy of Quentin Fricking Tarantino: as awesome as it sounds]). Or even a twofer minority.
So, will he choose the nerdy new kid (an aspie Cassio would make the story even more impressive) over his savvier hitherto right hand... who will make the upstart misbehave under a caffeine or sugar rush? And will the McGuffin still be a hanky, or something else?
Will there be any character deaths (this is the story of some schoolkids, after all, an impressive premise for a coming of age theme), like in the original?
Will any characters be cross-cast (a female Iago, or "Iako," like I read of in a novel, would be awesome, and an "Othella" would be even more... heck, even the "Othella and Desmond" approach of getting the whole cast through Rule 63, like Tarantino did in Switchblade Sisters [Othello completely gender-flipped, starring high-school "bad girls," courtesy of Quentin Fricking Tarantino: as awesome as it sounds]).
How will the queer and feminist themes be played out (after all, this is the 70s)? Which motives would Chevalier's Iago have?"

And comparing it with Chevalier's own revelations about the characters: (threatened bully Iago/Ian, queen bee Desdemona/Dee, her best friend Emilia/Mimi, and dark-skinned new kid Othello/Osei... what will the Cassio character look like? Will he be more the aloof brilliant kind [like Ryóma Echizen, the Prince of Tennis] or more of an extroverted lovable eccentric [like Odd della Robbia or a male Luna Lovegood]? And more emphasis on the racial aspect of otherness... so far, nothing confirmed on queer or feminist POV, so it's still to be read).

SO: Adiós to some of my own conjectures, including the ones with an Othella and Iako... though they were funny. In fact, I have put the whole cast through Rule 63 (though retaining their ages) and someday you'll get my mind's eye views of the cast gender-flipped: Othella, Iako, Cassie, Roderica, Desmond, Emilio, and Beau <3 Gender-flipping all seven is a formidable way into getting into the heart of the gender dynamics and relationships in the story :)
However, the thought of queer and/or feminist interpretation has not been revealed yet by Chevalier. Neither the catnip that will disgrace the Cassio character nor the McGuffin gift that, placed in the wrong hands for a frame-up, will convince Osei of Dee's betrayal. So there is still hope, and all we can do is cross our fingers and wait.

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