How the High Priests of Political Correctness Tried to Force Me to Portrayevil Black Men as White; in a Startling Interview in the Spectator, Sir Peter Hall,britain's Toptheatre Director, Attacks the Insidious Political Correctness That Is Threatening Us All

Daily Mail (London), January 9, 1997 | Go to article overview

How the High Priests of Political Correctness Tried to Force Me to Portrayevil Black Men as White; in a Startling Interview in the Spectator, Sir Peter Hall,britain's Toptheatre Director, Attacks the Insidious Political Correctness That Is Threatening Us All


Byline: SIMON BLOW

SIR PETER HALL is making a six-part television series of Sacred Hunger, Barry Unsworth's Booker Prize-winning novel about the African slave trade.

It is an expensive project. At first, Sir Peter thought it would need American money as well as British, especially since it would also be shown on U.S. television.

An American television company agreed to part-finance it. But the company executive concerned made one condition: none of the slave traders was to be black.

The book says otherwise. It was black slave barons who sold other blacks to the white merchants. Here is the book's description of a West Coast slave baron: `He was a tall, obese man, the colour of dry clay. In addition to his gold-laced tricorn hat, he wore a pair of linen drawers, a cutlass and a necklace of feathers. He was flanked by several men armed with muskets.'

Yellow Henry, the slave baron, stands at the prow of his boat carrying `five men, two boys, two women and a girl, all completely naked. They sat in silence, their arms bound behind them and their heads forced upright by means of a common yoke.' `Ten prime slave,' Yellow Henry shouts to the captain of the British ship.

Sir Peter refused to distort history. The setting for Sacred Hunger is the slave trade as organised by whites and blacks in the 18th century. He told the American television executive that the black slave trader must remain black. The executive said no dollars then.

Sir Peter went back to Channel 4, the co-financiers of the project. He told them he could not agree to the American terms. Channel 4 said they would stand behind him. In fact, Channel 4's attitude was `Don't have anything more to do with them'.

They then informed Sir Peter that they would fund the whole [pounds sterling]7 million project themselves. The idea of American backing was dropped. But when I spoke to Sir Peter, he felt very strongly about this brand of `political correctness' invading the arts.

`This is a problem,' said Sir Peter, on the eve of his departure to South Africa to choose location spots for Sacred Hunger. `The Americans are terrified that if we show a black slave trader, they'll lose money at the box office, that they will be thought `incorrect' by a sizeable part of the dollar-paying public.

`They don't want to offend the black community by showing that slaves were collected and provided by the blacks, and that there were black slave barons. They are frightened of black opinion. It's wonderful that there is a black opinion that people can be frightened of. But I think this should encourage one to tell the truth and not the opposite.'

Sir Peter has had plenty of problems with mistaken `correctness' before Sacred Hunger. `When I did The Merchant Of Venice on stage with Dustin Hoffman, there was considerable anxiety among his agents and managers initially as to whether he should be doing a play that they regarded as anti-Semitic. I said: `It's not a play that's anti-Semitic, it's about anti-Semitism.'

`The extraordinary thing about The Merchant Of Venice is that in a racist, anti-Jewish society, Shakespeare actually managed to write a play saying: `Do not be racist.' The Christians behave much worse than Shylock and goad him into being what he is. But there are schools in America that will not teach The Merchant Of Venice.'

The difficulties introduced by correctness are also impeding the authority of the director. While directing the new production of A Streetcar Named Desire, which has just opened in London, Sir Peter says `one of the small-part actors refused to say the word `nigger'. Finally, I persuaded the actor to say it by stating that was how Tennessee Williams had written it'.

And he foresees difficulties in the casting of Sacred Hunger. `One of the problems is going to be in persuading black actors to play slaves.'

What Sir Peter refers to as `puritanical Stalinism' is now infiltrating everywhere. …

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How the High Priests of Political Correctness Tried to Force Me to Portrayevil Black Men as White; in a Startling Interview in the Spectator, Sir Peter Hall,britain's Toptheatre Director, Attacks the Insidious Political Correctness That Is Threatening Us All
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