Introducing The Othello Project created by actors in the current RSC company. This new writing endeavour seeks to highlight the life and work of five incredible Black and Asian forgotten figures from history. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Othello, as a study of the outsider, they are using art to challenge racism by creating a platform to champion the life and work of their ancestors, whose voices have been largely erased from history.
Have you ever felt cheated? Maybe you failed a test or performed badly at a job interview only to later discover that you failed because you didn't receive the same information as the other testees and candidates who passed and received the warm handshake of success.
Either way it's one of those itchy annoying situations that at the time feels overwhelmingly unjust and leaves you thinking "if only I'd had the right information I could have passed."
That's how I felt when I discovered Althea Gibson; cheated. As if an important part of my formative education, the kind that prepares you for the world, had been kept from me. In fact when I discover any extraordinary Black or Brown person who has seemingly been erased from history be they a scientist, athlete, composer, artist, inventor etc that's exactly how I feel; cheated.
Althea Gibson was a pioneer of titanic proportion. As a Black working class woman in 1950s America, she had all the odds stacked against her, yet she became the first Black player to win Wimbledon along with many other titles. In fact she was the first tennis champion to receive her title from The Queen at Wimbledon.
I find myself imagining what impact it might have had on myself and others like me, if we'd seen figures of Black excellence, particularly those who excelled in historically white environments, celebrated and referenced in our PE, science, music, art and history lessons; imagine! Part of finding your place in the world is being able to see that there are others like you who have gone before you and prepared a way. If those figures aren't made visible, then one can feel increasingly invisible. Diversity of representation is important because it determines how one navigates their way through life and it allows you to dare and dream like everyone else.
I wanted to write about Althea because when she and characters like her are given the recognition their life and work deserves it improves everyone's understanding of race and the world. And so the play Althea explores what it is to live knowing that you and your life's work may one day be erased, because of the colour of your skin.