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Show and Tell: Othello (2001)
Introduction English Citizenship (1) Citizenship (2) Performing Arts  
Citizenship (1)
image from Othello (1961)
AuthorMark Farmer
Themesinstitutional racism, conflict

This adaptation re-casts Othello as London Metropolitan Police's first black head and particularly focuses on the issue of racism in the police. As such, it offers an unusual way in to discussing some very relevant topical issues, including the concept of 'institutional racism'. Given the sensitivity of these issues, this approach might be better suited to older students.

It is not essential for students to be familiar with Shakespeare's Othello for these suggested activities and, if you are feeling adventurous, why not start by playing extract one, Promotion, without providing any contextualization. However, if you would like students to have a clearer idea of the story they can read through a synopsis of the programme by following the link on the right.

As they watch the extract, ask students to note down what they see and hear as well as what they can infer. For example: John Othello is being offered the role of Commissioner of the Met, he is skipping a couple of ranks by accepting the job etc. Follow this by a whole class discussion, drawing out students' thoughts about the sequence. What does the Prime Minister mean by 'making a clear bold statement'? What is the significance of the fact that the decision to make John Othello the Met's head was put forward by the man who handles the government's 'presentation'. Do students find the language used by Ben Jago (Christopher Eccleston) surprising?

You might wish to use this extract to explore racism in the workplace in a little more detail. The themes of jealousy and racism intersect here - do students have any thoughts about this relationship? Do they think that Ben Jago's reaction to Othello's promotion would have been similar if Othello was white? How can organisations support employees who feel they are treated differently because of their race? What measures can companies take to promote understanding amongst their employees?

There is also the complex issue of 'spin' and 'PR' to consider. The Prime Minister tells Othello that he believes he is the 'best man for the job' and Othello is obviously confident of his ability to run London's police force. However, Ben Jago clearly believes that Othello's promotion is a public relations stunt. How do students think that these kinds of prejudices can be overcome? There are numerous other topical parallels that can shed light on this discussion; for example, the introduction of equal opportunities monitoring (or 'affirmative action' in the US) and the specific recruitment of more female MPs by both main political parties in the UK. How important do students think it is to have clear role models in terms of race and/or when it comes to high-profile positions?

You might prefer to focus on the police in particular. What are students' attitudes towards the police in general? How aware are they of the debate surrounding police and race in the UK? What do they understand by the term 'institutional racism' and what are their suggestions for promoting a more positive attitude towards the police amongst various different groups in society?

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