OK there have been recent productions where white women have played the role but the text itself is pretty clear – apologies to my (white) niece who recently played the role – I may be female but I don’t really get it other than as creative playfulness in the dramatic arts 🙂 . Women have played the role of Prospero too but he is also clearly male, a father and someone who has acquired political power under the rule of primogeniture. Shakespeare seems to invite creative dramatic reworkings but from the point of view of academic textual discussion Othello is a black male. The writer and Shakespeare enthusiast Ben Arogundade provides an interesting and very readable summary of debate surrounding Othello and race in a blog article on Othello and Race.
The text clearly represents Othello as ‘other’ but not just because he is black and from a foreign land but because he is a soldier in a world being overcome by politicians. He has internalised this otherness – it is a source of his insecurity with Desdemona.
What is interesting is that he is Christian. Iago would seek to portray Othello as ‘other’ in terms of culture and religion yet Othello’s language clearly indicates Christian cultural values. Shakespeare would have been aware of black Christians in London in particular but it does fly in the face of contemporary stereotypes. Iago, from a ‘Christian’ country clearly is a man devoid of any faith.
For more see Othello lecture notes here.