Theatrical release poster
Directed byTim Blake Nelson
Screenplay byBrad Kaaya
Based onOthello
by William Shakespeare
Produced byDaniel Fried
Eric Gitter
StarringMekhi Phifer
Josh Hartnett
Julia Stiles
Elden Henson
Andrew Keegan
Rain Phoenix
Anthony A.J. Johnson
John Heard
Martin Sheen
CinematographyRussell Lee Fine
Edited byKate Sanford
Music byJeff Danna
Daniel Fried Productions
Chickie the Cop
Distributed byLions Gate Entertainment
Release date
  • August 31, 2001 (2001-08-31)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million[1]
Box office$19.2 million[2]

O is a 2001 American drama film, and a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare's Othello, set in an American high school. It stars Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles, and Josh Hartnett. It was directed by Tim Blake Nelson and written by Brad Kaaya. The film contains many different styles of music, ranging from rap to opera. It was filmed in Charleston, South Carolina in the spring of 1999. Originally intended for release for October 17, 1999, it was shelved following the Columbine High School massacre; O was finally released on August 31, 2001. The film grossed $16 million at the United States box office, which was seen by distributor Lions Gate Films as a "box office success".[2][3]


During a high school basketball game, Odin James (Mekhi Phifer) scores the basket that wins the game for his team. Later at an awards ceremony, the coach, Duke Goulding (Martin Sheen) presents the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award to Odin for his efforts, an award he shares with his teammate Michael Cassio (Andrew Keegan). In giving Odin the award, Duke passes over his son Hugo (Josh Hartnett), Odin's teammate and friend. At a party celebrating the victory, Hugo plans with school outcast Roger Calhoun (Elden Henson) to go to the school's dean, Bob Brable (John Heard) and tell him that Odin raped his daughter, Desi (Julia Stiles), whom Odin has been dating. Hugo promises Roger that Desi will be his after Odin is out of the way, but Roger is only a pawn in Hugo's ultimate plan to destroy Odin.

Later, in another game, Odin's team wins once again. At the celebration party, Hugo engineers a fight between Roger and a very drunk Michael, who is temporarily suspended from the team. Hugo tells Michael to ingratiate himself with Desi so that she will talk to Odin on his behalf. Soon afterward, Hugo tells Odin that Michael and Desi have been spending a lot of time together, and that she may be cheating on him. Odin doesn't believe this at first, but gradually comes to suspect them. Odin questions Desi, but she calms him down and he believes her. Nevertheless, the stress of the situation drives Odin to begin using drugs.

Hugo manipulates his girlfriend Emily (Rain Phoenix) into stealing a scarf for him that Odin gave to Desi. Hugo, in turn, gives it to Michael in hopes that Odin will believe Desi gave Michael the scarf in an effort to prove Desi is cheating on Odin.

Meanwhile, Odin and Desi are having sex at a motel, during which Odin sees an image of Michael on top of Desi in the mirror; angered, he becomes very rough with Desi, to the point that she cries out for him to stop, a plea he ignores as he continues to rape her. Afterward, they lie together staring in opposite directions.

After Odin assaults another student during a game in a drug-fueled rage, Hugo tells him about the scarf, convincing him that Desi is cheating on him. Enraged, Odin vows to kill her; Hugo then promises to kill Michael. Hugo, with Odin and Roger, plans to kill Michael and Desi. Hugo and Roger attempt to kill Michael in a carjacking, but it does not go as planned: Roger and Michael struggle, Hugo hits Michael with a crowbar, knocking him unconscious. Roger shoots Michael in the leg, and then Hugo turns the gun on Roger and kills him after telling him that Desi is dead.

Odin and Desi are in Desi's room talking and Odin is pretending to make up with her. They are making out on the bed when suddenly Odin attacks her; Desi fights back, but he finally strangles her to death. Emily rushes into the room and sees Desi's corpse; she soon finds out what Hugo has done. She begins telling Odin that Hugo told her to steal the scarf and exposes his plot, and Hugo fatally shoots her when she refuses to be quiet. Odin finally realizes that Hugo has been manipulating him the entire time, and demands to know why; Hugo refuses to answer. When the police arrive, Odin tells them what happened and shoots himself, dying by suicide. As Hugo is taken into police custody, he says in voice over that he will have his day in the spotlight.



Screenwriter Brad Kaaya's inspiration for the script came from Shakespeare's Othello, "the spate of suburban school shootings that rocked the country in the 1980s", and his own experiences as a Black teenager attending a largely white private school.[4] Tim Blake Nelson came across the script while filming Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line, and was offered the chance to direct based on his directorial debut Eye of God.[4]

Filming began in Charleston, South Carolina in early 1999[5] and wrapped that March.[6] Dimension Films, a division of Miramax, acquired the film two days into principal photography.[7]


The official release date was initially October 17, 1999, but was postponed following the Columbine High School massacre in April of that year.[6] The delay was likely due to the film's themes of sex and violence in high school, as suggested by its director.[6] Another theory is that it was held back until after the 2000 U.S. presidential election.[8][5][9] The film was initially due to be released by Miramax but the studio passed it to Lions Gate after O's producers sued for breach of contract.[10][6]

The film was finally released theatrically on August 31, 2001.[4]


The film has received moderately positive reviews. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports a 64% approval rating with an average rating of 6.1/10 based on 124 reviews. The website's consensus reads: "Though well-intentioned and serious in its exploration of teen violence, O is an uneven experiment that doesn't quite succeed".[11] On Metacritic, the film achieved an average score of 53 out of 100 based on 26 reviews, signifying "mixed or average reviews".[12]


O was nominated for a Black Reel Award for Best Actor for Mekhi Phifer.[9] Tim Blake Nelson also won the Golden Space Needle Award at the Seattle international Film Festival for Best Director.[13]


  1. ^ "O Movie Preview". Box Office Prophets. Retrieved July 2, 2022.
  2. ^ a b "O (2001)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
  3. ^ "Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., Form S-2/A". Archived from the original on October 9, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c "Long wait is finally over for Tim Blake Nelson's 'O'". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. August 31, 2001. Archived from the original on June 17, 2022. Retrieved June 17, 2022.
  5. ^ a b Traister, Rebecca (November 13, 2000). "The Story of O , Weinstein Style: High-School Othello is Held up". The New York Observer.
  6. ^ a b c d Caro, Mark (August 26, 2001). "Story of 'O' is a controversial tale". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on June 17, 2022. Retrieved June 17, 2022.
  7. ^ Nelson, Tim Blake (August 26, 2001). "FILM; There's a Price You Pay for Getting Too Real: Delay". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 17, 2022.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 31, 2001). "O movie review & film summary (2001)". RogerEbert.com.
  9. ^ a b Jimenez Murguía, Salvador, ed. (2018). The Encyclopedia of Racism in American Films. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 430. ISBN 9781442269064.
  10. ^ McCarthy, Todd (June 7, 2001). "Film reviews: O". Variety. Retrieved April 25, 2021.
  11. ^ "O (2001)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 27, 2015.
  12. ^ "O Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved July 27, 2015.
  13. ^ "Golden Space Needle History 2000-2009". Seattle International Film Festival. Retrieved June 17, 2022.