In The Tempest (2010), Julie Taymor evokes a Pacific, rather than an Atlantic, framework for the play's events by shooting all exteriors for the film in Hawaii. She also casts African actor Djimon Hounsou as the enslaved Caliban despite the fact that African slaves were never actually kept on the Hawaiian islands. By transplanting the story of African slavery on the American mainland to a Hawaiian setting, Taymor occludes a full history of slavery in Hawaii that could have served as the basis for the portrayal of Caliban's experience of servitude on Shakespeare' island. Another by-product of Taymor's decision to portray Caliban as an African slave born in Hawaii who ultimately achieves dominion over his homeland is that her film resonates in unexpected ways with events transpiring in the United States during and after the 2008 presidential campaign. At that time, Barack Obama's eligibility to serve in that office came into question as a result of suspicions about his status as a natural-born American citizen. Taymor's Tempest parallels this "birther controversy" through its portrayal of Caliban as a dark-skinned man with one African parent, who, like Obama, unexpectedly rises to political power even though the legitimacy of his Hawaiian birth has come into question. By raising the issue of Hawaii's status as a state in the union, Taymor's film provokes us to consider whether the history of slavery in Hawaii constitutes an authentic part of the history of slavery in America.




Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 431-452
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.