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2011 Venice Film Fest Lineup Includes “Shame” & “Wuthering Heights” Adaptation w/ Black Heathcliff

2011 Venice Film Fest Lineup Includes "Shame" & "Wuthering Heights" Adaptation w/ Black Heathcliff

The 2011 installment of the Venice Film Festival revealed its lineup this morning, and, based on all the speculation I’d heard and read in the last month or so, there really aren’t any surprises on the list.

It’s a strong lineup, and, while we were granted press accreditation to cover the festival, I doubt we’ll be present for it. MsWOO is our gal across the pond, in the UK, and she’d be the one representing us, but a 10-day trip to Venice, Italy ain’t cheap, and the trip to Cannes in May wasn’t either. So, the only way we’d had a presence there is if we suddenly came into the cash needed to cover the trip. And if any of you is feeling particularly generous, and wants to chip in, drop me an email (

Anywho… of particular interest to this site are a couple of films (though, frankly, there are several films in this year’s lineup that I’d love to see) are Steve McQueen’s Shame, which we’ve already given quite a lot of coverage to on S&A, so I won’t rehash. Feel free to search the site for past posts. I even read and reviewed the script a month or 2 ago, which you can read HERE.

The other film we’ll be keeping our eyes and ears open for is Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s classic and only novel, Wuthering Heights, which will be making its world premiere at Venice.

Why are we interested in this, you wonder?

It features the first non-white actor to play the lead male role (aka Heathcliff) in the dozen or so times the literary work has been adapted for both the big and small screens.

Meet the young British actor who is starring as Heathcliff in Andrea Arnold’s secretive film (above); his name is James Howson.

The ethnicity of the character Heathcliff, who’s really the heart of the novel, has been the subject of some debate amongst academics; author of the original work, Brontë, describes Heathcliff as a “dark-skinned gypsy in aspect and a little lascar” – lascar being a 17th century term used to describe sailors from India or Southeast Asia. Throughout the book, the darkness of his skin is emphasized, though once he’s described as not being a “regular black.” Another character suggests him to be of some Chinese ancestry.

Brontë, unfortunately doesn’t give enough for us to be certain of Heathcliff’s ethnic origins, however, if anything, I think we could all probably agree that one thing he isn’t is Caucasian – not strictly so anyway. He’s likely of mixed heritage – although just about every previous actor who’s played the character on film has pretty much been white – Laurence Olivier, Timothy Dalton, and Ralph Fiennes, notably. So, the casting of Howson may actually be closer to what Brontë had in mind when she penned her opus.

Regardless, he’s playing the part.

The Andrea Arnold film, which was initially announced earlier last year (although it had been in the works since 2008, passing from one set of actors/directors to another, before landing in Arnold’s hands), was shot in secrecy. In fact, the casting of Howson was kept concealed throughout the production… until the announcement last fall when the film was going into post-production. No one outside of the film’s crew, and likely the Venice Film Festival’s curators, has seen anything of the film – not a still image, no footage, nothing.

Little is known about Howson, however, the UK’s Daily Mail says that Arnold’s goal was to cast mostly unknowns. Relative British newcomer Kaya Scodelario, will play alongside Howson, as Catherine Earnshaw.

The film will make its bow at the Lido, and once that happens, I’m sure we’ll start to see and hear a lot more about it. In won’t be surprised if a first trailer drops very soon.

The festival (said to be the oldest film festival in the world, and also one of the most revered) runs from August 31 through September 10.

The full lineup of films in and out of competition, follows below:

Venice 2011 Competition

The Ides Of March, George Clooney (US) [opening film]

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Tomas Alfredson (UK, Germany)

Wuthering Heights, Andrea Arnold (UK)

Texas Killing Fields, Ami Canaan Maan (US) (second work)

Quando La Notte, Cristina Comencini (Italy)

Terraferma, Emanuele Crialese (Italy/France)

A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg (Germany/Canada)

4:44 Last Day On Earth, Abel Ferrara (US)

Killer Joe, William Friedkin (US)

Un Ete Brulant, Philippe Garrel (France/Italy/Switzerland) 

A Simple Life (Taojie), Ann Hui (China/Hong Kong)

The Exchange (Hahithalfut), Eran Kolirin (Israel) (second work)

Alps (Alpeis),Yorgos Lanthimos (Greece)

Shame, Steve McQueen (UK) (second work)

L’ultimo Terrestre, Gian Alfonso Pacinotti (GIPI) (Italy) (first work)

Carnage, Roman Polanski (France/Germany/Spain/Poland)

Chicken With Plums, Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud (France/Belgium/Germany)

Faust, Aleksander Sokurov (Russia)

Dark Horse,Todd Solondz (US)

Himizu, Sion Sono (Japan)

Seediq Bale, Wei Te-Sheng (Taiwan) (second work)
Surprise film


Vivan las Antipodas!(documentary), Victor Kossakovsky (Germany/Argentina/Holland/Chile/Russia) [opening film] 

Damsels In Distress, Whit Stillman (US) [closing film] 

La Folie Almayer, Chantal Akerman (Belgium/France)

The Sorcerer And The White Snake (Baish Echuanshuo), Tony Ching Siu-Tung (China/Hong Kong)

Giochi D’estate, Rolando Colla (Switzerland/Italy) 

La Desintegration, Philippe Fauchon (Belgium) 

The Moth Diaries, Mary Harron (Canada/Ireland)

Alois Nebel, Tomas Lunak (first work) (Czech Republic/Germany)

W.E., Madonna (UK) (second work)

Eva, Kike Maillo (UK) (first work)

Scossa, Francesco Maselli, Carlo Lizzani, Ugo Gregoretti, Nino Russo (Italy)

La Cle Des Champs,Claude Nuridsany, Marie Perennou (France) 

Il Villaggio Di Cartone, Ermanno Olmi (Italy)

Wilde Salome, Al Pacino (US) 

Tormented, Takashi Shimizu (Japan)

Contagion, Steven Soderbergh (US)

Marco Bellocchio,Venezia 2011, Pietro Marcello (Italy) (documentary, short) 

La Meditazione Di Hayez, Mario Martone (Italy) (short)

Tahrir 2011,Tamer Ezzat, Ahmad Abdalla, Ayten Amin, Amr Salama (Egypt) (documentary)

The End, Collectif Abounaddara (Syria) 

Vanguard, Colleftif Abounaddara (Syria)

Evolution (Megaplex)(3D), Marco Brambilla (US) (experimental film)

Out of Competition Events

Questa Storia Qua, Alessandro Paris, Sibylle Righetti (Italy) (documentary)

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, Lisa Immordino Vreeland (US) (documentary)

Golden Career Lion – Nel Nome Del Padre, Marcho Bellocchio (Italy)

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{{{ and sorry to belabor the point but wasn’t slavery going on then? i’m quite certain that english people were very aware of ethnicity and judging people by their skin colour. }}}

Even more than that….a high percentage of sailors during this period were black, something that is not very well known today (and something I wasn’t aware of until the book about black sailors pre- US Civil War–“”Black Jacks’–came out). These black men ended up being the natural leaders of black communities in the States before the ministers did because they had steady employment and they were able to travel the world and bring back news. These men visited England all the time.

That being said I never saw “Heatcliff” as being “black” in my mind when I read the book. Granted I kinda rushed through “Wuthering Heights” because it was a class assignment and surely I wasn’t paying too much attention to all the details, but when I came across the word “black” in the book to describe Heatcliffe I chalked it up to the typical use of that adjective to describe a person’s temperment and mood.


@philip larkin
you said: “What is clear is that no-one really knows. People in 19th century Yorkshire weren’t experts on ethnic types, and they didn’t spend every day judging people on the colour of their skin, like modern liberals do.”

in the book it is clear that his darker skin, and being referred to as a gypsy also symbolizes heathcliff’s ‘otherness’ in the society he finds himself in. for that to work there has to be an awareness of and prejudice against difference of skin colour and/or ethnicity.

and sorry to belabor the point but wasn’t slavery going on then? i’m quite certain that english people were very aware of ethnicity and judging people by their skin colour. as well as his exact ethnic heritage, heathcliff’s sudden wealth is never explained in the book either and many scholars have posited that it wouldn’t be unlikely if heathcliff’s money came from the slave trade.

@vanessa: i think it’s safe to assume that james howson does have some African in his heritage.

i’ve read wuthering heights umpteen times and seen many movie adaptations. i can’t wait to see this version! i also like andrea arnold’s filmmaking. she’s a fantastic writer/director.


{{{ What is clear is that no-one really knows. People in 19th century Yorkshire weren’t experts on ethnic types, and they didn’t spend every day judging people on the colour of their skin, like modern liberals do. }}}

Like modern liberals? Phil, please take your ignorant musings to some bullshit right wing movie blog like Big Hollywood where “little minds” like yourself belong. It amazes me that conservative types (and anyone who wrote that comment is a conservative….at worst) like to think they are now above racism and automatically immune from judging people by race, ethnicity, religion, etc when by the very nature of conservatism (and its definition) these are the folks who write the book on Bigotry 101. Get over yourself. You and your kind are no better.


@Philip Arlington

I see your argument and perhaps I jumped the gun making that assumption.

When I first saw the post, I thought image was of a “black” actor. That’s why I said “to me”. :-/

Philip Arlington

Vanessa, how can it be “clear” that he has African in his background, when there is no reference to it anywhere in the book, but there are speculative references to three non-African ethnicities? You are simply applying your own prejudices or fantasies to impose something that isn’t there.

What is clear is that no-one really knows. People in 19th century Yorkshire weren’t experts on ethnic types, and they didn’t spend every day judging people on the colour of their skin, like modern liberals do.

Vanessa Martinez

James Howson huh?! that’s awesome!

Who cares if she won’t specify his ethnicity, it’s clear to me he has African in his background. Anyways, I’ve always loved this Emily Bronte classic.

The film adaptation I saw was the one with Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche, who I both love, and enjoyed the film.

I can’t wait to see this new one!

E C Forde

You should suggest she apply for NUJ funds to cover the event.

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