Afro-Haitian-American Ritual Power: Vodou in the Welles-FTP Voodoo Macbeth

Benjamin Thomas Hilb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The success of the FTP Harlem Negro Unit’s Voodoo Macbeth (1936), directed by Orson Welles, is well-known; but its cultural impact has yet fully to be grasped because its Afro-Haitian religious dimension has been neglected or misunderstood in criticism. A careful examination of surviving playscripts, reviews, interviews, and studies shows that the production’s rendition of the Afro-Haitian Vodou religion, led by renowned African dancer AsadataDafora Horton, aligns in several significant ways with authentic Vodou ritual practices. As the inspiring force of the Haitian Revolution, Vodou is rooted in resistance to racial injustice. In propounding the authentic Afro-Haitian religion, Voodoo Macbeth promoted this revolutionary spirit of resistance to racial injustice in 1930s Harlem, where impoverished conditions existed as a result of racism. The profound religious dimension of Voodoo Macbeth must therefore be recognized for a fuller understanding of the production, its transnational historical import, and its powerful social function. The essay finally proposes that Voodoo Macbeth be officially renamed Vodou Macbeth to acknowledge its authentic Afro-Haitian rituals, and recommends “authenticity” as an indispensable, democratic critical category.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)649-681
Number of pages33
JournalShakespeare Bulletin
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2014


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