Far More Black Than Black: Stereotypes, Black Masculinity, and Americanization in Tim Blake Nelson’s O

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2017


"By and large, scholarly critics who engage with race in O frequently commend its depiction of Odin’s (the Othello character) racial identity. Deborah Elizabeth Whaley, for example, asserts that the film’s stereotypical characterization of Odin provides “ways of seeing—and not seeing—the advents of contemporary racism and social injustice in American society” (234). Though more skeptical, Mark Thornton Burnett’s and Barbara Hodgdon’s respective readings of O also affirm its racial representation. Burnett recognizes that “At first sight” O appears to subscribe to “negative racial stereotypes” (69). Yet Burnett counters what he sees as a superficial reading by pointing to Odin’s contradictory, hybrid identity as established on the basketball court and in his final speech, moments in which he shifts between black and white markers of selfhood that dismantle said stereotypes. More than other literary critics, Hodgdon addresses the stereotypes in O, pointing to the way that Odin’s sexual relationship with Desi (the Desdemona character) invokes the racial memory “that black men rape white women [which] constitutes and sustains the illusory basis for lynching” (102). Through Odin’s violence and inarticulacy, Hodgdon admits that until his last scene, “he evokes the cliché of violent black masculinity” (103). She hedges, however, noting that due to his status on the basketball court and his positioning through the movie’s music, “O also is hot-wired to other, arguably more positive stereotypes.” Hodgdon concludes with tepid praise, “O’s own last words, indicting racism’s root cause, may not be enough, but at least O dreams itself as a critical film that frankly addresses the contradictions encoded in its contemporary re-location” (104). Ultimately then, even as she sharply recognizes the problems in Odin’s depiction, Hodgdon too faintly commends O’s engagement with race."


Excerpted from article

Journal Title

Literature/Film Quarterly





First Department