Actor Slams American Ballet Theater's 'Jim Crow' Production Of 'Othello'

06/03/2015 02:54 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2015

A professional actor who attended the American Ballet Theater's production of "Othello" sent a fiery letter to the company decrying its use of dark makeup on the dancer in the title role.

The New-York based ballet company staged four performances of "Othello" at Manhattan's Metropolitan Opera House in May. Marcelo Gomes, a principal dancer with the company, played the lead for two of those shows, according to the ABT's website.

Robert Manning Jr., an actor who attended the May 19 performance starring Gomes, wrote to the ABT two days later to express his "disgust" at the use of dark brown makeup by the ballet's "light-skinned" star. The performance is based on Shakespeare's tragedy of a black general in an Italian army.

"Being African-American and living in this country, I am often confronted with racial insensitivity in my every day life. I have even come to expect it in certain situations which is an unfortunate feeling to experience every day. But I never, and I mean never, thought I would experience this feeling at the ABT production of Othello at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City," Manning wrote in a letter published Tuesday on the website Broadway Black.

"I hope you will sit down with me and attempt to explain to me, in person, why you believed it was a remotely good idea to not only cast Othello with a light-skinned Brazilian ballet dancer, BUT to also paint his face BROWN," Manning wrote. "I was not looking forward to being insulted. I was not looking forward to a Jim Crow production of Othello in 2015. I left after the first act and I will never attend another ABT production for the rest of my life and I will encourage anyone I know to follow suit."

Manning elaborated Wednesday in an interview with The Huffington Post.

“I don’t have a problem with Mr. Gomes playing Othello, but don’t paint him," he said. "I’ve performed in Othello as Cassio [a light-skinned character] but they didn’t paint me white."

Manning, who’s had roles on television shows like "The Good Wife" and "The Blacklist," said he specifically didn’t call it “blackface” because that evokes images of white actors mocking African-Americans with stereotypes.

“The tradition of what blackface is, that’s not what this was. They weren’t trying to make fun of the way black people acted,” Manning said. “But the ignorance of it is unbelievable.”

Gomes had previously posted a photo on his Instagram account showing him getting into character with the help of ABT's makeup team, but the photo is no longer available.

It had shown him stripped to the waist while darkening makeup was applied.

"Becoming #othello was so much fun with our makeup team and a little help from our friend the #airbrush ! Thanks to Valentina and Rena and her team !! #instanttan #bronzed #behindthescene at #abtmetseason15," Gomes wrote in the deleted photo.

Manning said ABT has not yet responded to his letter. Kelly Ryan, a spokeswoman for ABT, told HuffPost the company would issue a response in one to two days.

This story was revised after Gomes deleted a photo from his Instagram account.

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