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Michigan music professor replaced for showing ‘woke’ students critically acclaimed film


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Michigan music professor replaced for showing ‘woke’ students critically acclaimed film
By Kerry J. Byrne
October 9, 2021 12:51pm  Updated

A celebrated Chinese-American composer and musician, praised globally for his multicultural influences, has been replaced from a class he was teaching at the University of Michigan amid charges of racial insensitivity.

Bright Sheng ignited controversy on Sept. 10 by showing students the 1965 film version of Shakespeare’s “Othello,” according to The Michigan Daily, which featured acclaimed actor Laurence Olivier in blackface.

The image reportedly invaded the safe space inhabited by today’s cancel-culture generation of college students.

Othello, poster, British poster art, Laurence Olivier, 1965. Laurence Olivier starred in the 1965 film. LMPC via Getty Images

“I was stunned,” freshman Olivia Cook told The Michigan Daily. “In such a school that preaches diversity and making sure that they understand the history of POC (people of color) in America, I was shocked that (Sheng) would show something like this in something that’s supposed to be a safe space.” 

Sheng issued an apology to students immediately after the Sept. 10 class and then wrote a more formal apology to his department on Sept. 16, according to the report. 

Sheng, 65, is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and MacArthur Fellow whose compositions have been performed by orchestras and at high-profile events around the world, including the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, according to the UofM website.

“Music history offers lessons that remain significant today, including how blackface minstrelsy as a part of U.S. popular music was both a product of and a way to support racist stereotypes,” university spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen told The Post. “However, charged lessons such as these must include proper context and should always be presented with care and sensitivity.”

Sheng failed to properly prepare his students to see the outdated image of an actor in blackface, one colleague alleged.

“To show the film now, especially without substantial framing, content advisory and a focus on its inherent racism is in itself a racist act, regardless of the professor’s intentions,” Evan Chambers, a professor of composition, wrote in an email to the university paper. “We need to acknowledge that as a community.”

The production was widely accepted as one of the greatest musicals with the most Oscar nominations for a Shakespeare play.

The university episode sparked backlash from observers who noted that Sheng, who grew up in China amid the communist Cultural Revolution, was censored on an ostensibly open-minded US college campus.  

“Bright Sheng survived Mao’s Cultural Revolution but he might not survive a couple of whiny Michigan students being shown a film version of ‘Othello,'” writer Christian Schneider said Friday in a tweet

Othello from 1965 Students were stunned to see Laurence Olivier in blackface. Ronald Grant Archive / Mary Evan

One commenter compared Sheng’s detractors’ behavior to that of “petulant children.”

“Bright Sheng did nothing wrong. His students should suck it up and stop acting like petulant children,” social media editor Oliver Jia tweeted Saturday

“Michigan University should also be ashamed of itself for indulging in their nonsense and not siding with its staff,” he added. “The only person deserving of an apology is Sheng.” 

National Review editor Jay Nordlinger said: “I wish Bright Sheng, a leading composer whom the University of Michigan is lucky to have, could tell the university to go to hell.”

Following Sheng’s apology, critics took exception to a part of the letter in which the professor listed various times in his career he’s worked with people of color.

A group of 42 students, staff and faculty members called the apology “inflammatory” in a letter sent to David Gier, dean of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

“The letter implies that it is thanks to him that many of them have achieved success in their careers,” the letter stated.

“He could have taken responsibility for his actions and realized that this was harmful to some of his students that are within his class,” Cook, the freshman student, told The Michigan Daily. “Instead, he tried to make excuses. Instead of just apologizing for it, he tried to downplay the fact that the entire situation happened in the first place.”

All full-time faculty at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance attended required anti-racism training and development opportunities in the 2020-21 academic year, according to the university.


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Yeah, this is certainly nuts. You wouldn't have a white actor playing Othello today, but Olivier's performance was serious and not intended to ridicule, it's not analogous to a minstrel show. Nothing wrong with showing it in class and I don't know why it's necessary to have the blackface discussion for the millionth time before showing it so all the students can pat themselves on the back for not approving of it. 

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...
1 minute ago, Mr. Gorman said:

That's pretty much par for the course, LuckyDan.  A person can do all the groveling and apologizing they want -- but it won't change anything!  They still get replaced and called names and so on.  

It's really no wonder young men are less and less interested in higher education. I would not want to go to college today either. 

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IF I were to give advice to any young man today I'd say "Learn to THINK!  You don't need anyone's permission to use what brain cells you have at your disposal to try and figure certain things out for yourself.  If you don't know something -- then ask -- but you don't need help with everything!"

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When I first heard of this, I was incredulous, but shouldn't have been.   School administrations have been supine for DECADES before their misguided, foolish, ludicrously virtue-signalling students (aided and abetted by extremist professors.)

Feel sorry for Bright Sheng, but apologies are not called for.  He has only fueled their folly.  People must stop apologizing for good-faith acts, such as simply exposing students to a widely-acclaimed Othello, from many years ago.   Show some common sense and intellectual integrity. in the face of Soviet-style purges.   Courage can be contagious, and has to start somewhere.        

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm sorry schools have become such a toxic environment. I am a teacher and won't return because school has become an asylum run by the patients.

Kids are happy, fun, loving & color/ethnic blind. All the negative, self important ideas kids now spew in their defense comes from empty catchphrases learned from their parents.

Kids used say the silly, "What? I didn't do anything" .... has now become "You're picking on me because I'm ______" fill in the blanks. This simple arrogance shifts responsibility to the teacher. 

Reading that article, the focus of political incorrectness was minstrel shows. Sorry, OTHELLO is not a minstrel show. It's a play that was written about a Moor in Italy. Do the ITALIAN roles need to be played by Italians?

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