Much Ado About Nothing @ Shakespeare’s Globe, London, 2017Comedy

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The Globe’s Much Ado About Nothing: Sombreros, Tequila, and Exoticization

By Mayra Cano, California State University-Fresno

Image copyright: Shakespeare's Globe

Image copyright: Shakespeare’s Globe

Matthew Dunster’s reimagination of Much Ado About Nothing, set in 1914 during the Mexican Revolution, employs a variety of stereotypes about Mexico and Mexicans, demonstrating a misunderstanding of this period in Mexican history. This alongside the production’s use of brownface makes for a production that is remarkable not because of its actors, but rather because of its cultural appropriation. Dunster’s production perpetuates the exoticization of a country which arguably already suffers from a lack of empathy on the global stage.

Although the play itself is enjoyable, it’s ultimately marred by Dunster’s mischaracterization of Mexico. The choice to set the play during the Mexican Revolution isn’t a misstep in itself, as Shakespeare’s play is set in Messina after an unspecified war. Dunster’s decision to set the play in Mexico during this specific time period might have recalled an era when Mexican people suffered heavily due to violence, poverty, and famine spurred by the revolution. Yet Dunster’s rendition of this time period chooses to focus on tequila, guns, and sombreros. This portrayal of Mexican history romanticizes the Mexican Revolution, divorcing it from its historical significance to actual Mexican people, for the entertainment of a predominantly white audience. Consequently, the play reduces the Mexican Revolution to a colorful and exotic aesthetic devoid of any political meaning.

This reductive portrayal of Mexican history and culture is further perpetuated by the incorporation of brownface, which, similar to blackface, uses cosmetics to darken the complexions of actors.  The act of darkening the complexion of an actor so that she or he looks Mexican is reprehensible in itself, but it also denies Mexican or Latino actors the opportunity to tell their own narratives. The use of brownface is even more concerning when we take into consideration Mexico’s history with colorism. Colorism is the glorification of lighter skinned people of color over people of color who have darker complexions. Mexico has historically struggled with colorism since colonialism. The decision to whitewash Mexico is executed in an attempt to highlight the Spanish aspects of Mexican heritage while simultaneously attempting to erase Mexico’s indigenous ancestry. In elevating its own European heritage above its indigenous heritage, Mexico links itself to whiteness, and by doing so hopes to gain the power that is associated with whiteness. The choice to incorporate brownface into the play instead of hiring Mexican or Latino actors itself whitewashes the ethnic diversity of Mexico and perpetuates this inclination towards whiteness.

For these reasons the production misses the mark. Instead of being a bold production that demonstrates “revolutionary politics,” it simply utilizes Mexican culture as a prop.  Although this production’s initial intentions might have been to celebrate Mexican culture, its incorporation of stereotypes and brown face perpetuate a cycle of exoticization. The exoticization of Mexico in the play fuels the global image of Mexico as other. Instead of depicting Mexico as merely an exotic other, artists and politicians alike must invest more effort into research when portraying narratives that aren’t their own. Or, better yet, hire people to tell their own stories.

 

The views expressed in this post are the author’s own.

Reviewing Shakespeare is produced by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the University of Warwick to provide a searchable archive of independent reviews of worldwide Shakespearian performance.

Reviewing Shakespeare

Author: Reviewing Shakespeare

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