SEPTEMBER 24 - 27, 2020

“Why Did Desdemona Love the Moor?” at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival

“Why Did Desdemona Love the Moor?”

by Tennessee Williams

A black screenwriter has a secret affair with a white movie goddess (alternate title: “The Bitch”). Williams abandoned the project after 75 manuscript pages.

Adapted by Thomas Owen Mitchell, a staged reading of an unfinished short story from the 1940s (published March 2020) dramatizes Williams’ process as he considered drafts of a short story, a play, and a possible film.

Directed by Thomas Owen Mitchell
Performed in association with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Theatre


Saturday Sept 26, 1pm CST
Saturday Sept 26, 7pm CST
Sunday Sept 27, 1pm CST
Sunday Sept 27, 5pm CST

For more information about attending this event, please email

“Forbidden” for “the portrayal of sex relationships between the white and black races.”
-The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America’s Production Code, 1930

“Illegal” for “depicting or dealing with, the subject of sex degeneracy, or sex perversion.” 
-New York State Wales "Padlock" Law, 1927


A black man having an affair with a white woman had little chance of being seen onstage in America when Tennessee Williams began writing the short story titled “Why Did Desdemona Love the Moor?” in 1939.  Nevertheless, Williams continued working on the story in Provincetown in the summer of 1940. In Mexico that fall he wrote a letter to a friend about the “ story which is developing into a novel and may develop further into a play.”

“The Desdemona thing” as Williams called it in another letter, never did develop the way Williams hoped it might, though over the next few years he typed over a hundred and twenty manuscript pages. He created dialogue for a play and described camera set-ups for a possible movie. Neither film nor play could ever have been produced at that time. The Motion Picture Code forbid “sex relationships between the white and black races.” And if there had been a play, it couldn’t have played New York because the Wales “Padlock” Law prohibited depicting or “dealing with” gay characters, and in Williams’ “Desdemona thing” an openly gay man introduces the black man and the white woman to each other – on a movie set. She is the film’s white star, he is the film’s black author.

As would happen throughout his career, Williams was writing something for an audience that didn’t yet exist, imagining a project for a theater and film industry that might exist in the future. If the certainty of legal censorship may have curtailed his imagining, by the time the laws had changed Williams had himself dropped the project.  Self-censorship? In today’s cancel culture, Williams’ free use of racial and homophobic slurs, and his misogynistic alternate title – The Bitch – might still not find an accepting audience.

The Festival’s staged reading of “Why Did Desdemona Love the Moor?” adapted and directed by Thomas Owen Mitchell, dramatizes Williams’ changing ideas.

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