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Show and Tell: Othello (2001)
Introduction English Citizenship (1) Citizenship (2) Performing Arts  
Citizenship (2)
image from Othello (1961)
AuthorLaura Evans
Themessignificance of media in society

Othello (2001) picks up on all sorts of Citizenship-relevant themes, but could also act as the starting point for a wider look at the way in which film and television is used to explore and comment on topical political, social and cultural issues.

Students need not be familiar with the original Othello but you will need to explain that this programme is an adaptation of the original text that re-imagines the action in a modern setting. After watching through the first extract, Promotion, ask students to think carefully about the various themes and issues that the sequence touches on - stereotypes, racism, jealously etc. Why do students suppose that the filmmakers chose to update this particular play and use the Metropolitan Police as the focus of the action?

In fact, students might be interested to learn that, originally, this programme was conceived as part of a series of adaptations which would tackle contemporary issues (including an adaptation of Hamlet by Cracker's Jimmy McGovern). Ask students to imagine themselves in the role of a broadcaster - what kind of subjects and issues might they want the rest of these programmes to deal with? What kinds of issues do they think public audiences are most likely to engage with?

Taking this one step further, why not challenge students to look through some of the collections on BFI Screenonline, looking for television programmes and films dealing with a range of different political and social issues such as juvenile delinquency, race and racism, poverty and injustice.

After collecting together a list of different titles, ask students to think about the impact of television and film on contemporary political and social debates. Do they think that television and film merely reflect contemporary debates and concerns? Or do they think that TV and film have a more active role in shaping people's ideas and attitudes?

There is also the issue of fiction and documentary. Do students think that documentary, or factual programmes are better placed to inform and engage audiences? Or do they think that fictional television shows and films, like Othello (2001) have more impact in terms of making people think or even influencing their opinions?

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