Reviewing Ira Aldridge
Red Velvet and Revisionist Narrative
This essay argues that formal techniques of "revision" have been central to representing the significance of Ira Aldridge's blackness. I take the acts of repeat observation and anachronism in Lolita Chakrabarti's biopic play Red Velvet as cues for examining how revision makes racial meaning. Putting the play's treatment of Aldridge and Othello in conversation with a wider network of theater writing — including newspaper and memoir accounts of Aldridge's Othellos in 1833 and 1865, critical responses to Red Velvet in 2012 and 2017, and Shakespeare performance histories — I analyze the techniques of what I call "revisionist narratives" of black Shakespeare performance. I use the word "revisionist" not as a historical judgment but a conceptual index to how this kind of spectator narrative works: (1) as a revision, it is not just about what is seen by observers but what is seen again and seen at a different angle; (2) as a revisionist narrative about past events, it uses its retrospective position to structure temporalities of anticipation and anachronism. In the essay's coda, I explore how such revisionist narratives might be repurposed for anti-racist work.
The opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors, the English Department, or the University System of Georgia.
Borrowers and Lenders holds copyright on essays it publishes, but authors may share their essays freely, and readers may cite essays freely with appropriate attribution. (Please acknowledge Borrowers and Lenders in citations, weblinks, and other transformative uses.) Multimedia may not be downloaded or copied from this site without permission from the copyright holder or holders. In many cases, Borrowers and Lenders does not hold the copyright on multimedia.
Authors are responsible for securing any necessary permissions for illustrations to their essays. Contact the General Editors if you are having difficulty doing this. The editors have made every effort to obtain permission from copyright holders, but in some cases have been unable to contact the holders. If you have any further information about copyrights and permissions of material on this site, please contact the editors.