The 2021 Josephine Waters Bennett Lecture: On Protean Acting: Race and Virtuosity

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In November 2020, Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, the New York Times film critics, published an article entitled The Century's Greatest Actors, in which they proclaimed, We are in a golden age of acting-make that platinum. Celebrating the fact that their list of the top twenty-five actors from the last twenty years looked beyond Hollywood, Dargis and Scott declared that while there are Oscar winners on their list, there are also character actors and chameleons. One of the radical shape-shifting actors on the list is Tilda Swinton, whom Dargis characterized in the following fashion: The woman of a thousand otherworldly faces, Tilda Swinton has created enough personas-with untold wigs, costumes and accents-to have become a roster of one. She's a star, a character actor, a performance artist, an extraterrestrial, a trickster. Her pale, sharply planed face is an ideal canvas for paint and prosthetics, and capable of unnerving stillness. I am interested in the way that Swinton's pale, sharply planed face is praised for being so malleable: As Dargis says, an ideal canvas for paint and prosthetics. Swinton's paleness-her whiteness-is appended to her ability to be a trickster, to sustain paints and prosthetics, and to radically shape-shift. Swinton's acting craft is rendered visible to Dargis, because her canvas is pale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1127-1143
Number of pages17
JournalRenaissance Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Literature and Literary Theory


Dive into the research topics of 'The 2021 Josephine Waters Bennett Lecture: On Protean Acting: Race and Virtuosity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this