Ithaca High School has canceled their production of the musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame because the role of Esmeralda went to a white girl.
In the original Victor Hugo novel, Esmeralda was born Agnes, the illegitimate daughter of a French prostitute and a French nobleman. She was kidnapped by Gypsies. She is ethnically European. Even if she was assumed to be Romani, that would make her ethnically Central Asian. Even the Disney version had Esmeralda cast by Demi Moore. There is no literary reason for her to be Black or Hispanic.
That doesn’t matter.
A group called Students United for Ithaca protested and made demands.
1. STOP rehearsals for The Hunchback of Notre Dame (DEMANDS MET – show is canceled
2. START casting a new show with multiple leads. By doing this the talented students cast in this current show can still shine while also including an equally talented diverse group of actors.
3. STOP hiring adults who have heard complaints from theater professionals, concerned parents of color, and social justice activists time and time again, and have not listened or changed their actions.
4. START better hiring practices. (see “b” below)
FIRST STEP! : Remove Robert Winans as Director of the Boynton Middle School and High School Musical. We have tried to talk to Mr. Winans. He has not listened nor has he said publicly he wants to learn from his mistakes and do things differently. Mr. Brown and Dr Brown… Times Up. (AMENDED)
SECOND STEP! : Hire Joey Steinhagen as Director of the next musical. Joey has a concrete plan and has said he is confident he can mount an inclusive and wonderful show. Joey is the hero we need now to unit our community. Please let him! (AMENDED)
5. STOP the racist and openly stated policy of “color blind” casting in the ICSD.
Because of institutionalized racism this results in white children being cast in roles written as white parts and also white children being cast in roles that were specifically intended for people of color. Make no mistake, the world is not colorblind. Casting cannot be colorblind. Enough is Enough.
6. START a policy of “inclusive casting” by working to recruit young people of color, particularly those who are not currently involved in any activities in the performance arts within the school system but who have experience singing in other venues, such as church choirs.
7. STOP being satisfied with a system where only some students have access to voice lessons, dance lessons, acting lessons, etc. This favors the privileged few whose parents have the resource of both time and money.
8. START creating opportunities for all students to train to be performance artists. The local theater community and Ithaca College are untapped resources. Many have offered to help and have been ignored. Contact them. Ithaca College students have a service requirement. Ask them to give free voice lessons after school. Find volunteers for free dance lessons. Bring in experts in audition technique, such as staff of The Actor’s Workshop, who worked with us on Godfrey Simmons Musical 13 to prepare us to audition. So many community theatre organizations have said publicly they want to help, and yet they have not been asked to help. Why?
9. STOP ignoring and denying that you have created a white centered program run by white adults for the benefit of white children. White children should also be educated about interrupting these practices of White supremacy. Hollow lip service about equality is shameful and the eyes of our concerned community are now focused on you.
10. START following the four core values of IHS you tell us to follow, every day, but don’t follow yourselves.
These students are demanding that a teacher be fired for his casting decision. They claim that color blind casting, that is casting based on talent, is racist.
In an open letter, they themselves acknowledge that the student cast was talented. She was the wrong skin color to play the daughter of a French prostitute.
Before we speak further, we want to stress that the talented young woman who was cast in this role is a stellar actor, singer, and dancer. She has worked hard to hone her craft and the IHS stage, or any stage, would be lucky to have her. Our concern is not with her, but with the fact that in terms of demographics, she is the wrong choice for this role.
They want racial quotas and to punch students who go above and beyond with extra curricular lessons.
They want the school to admit in some sort of sick Maoist show trial way that they are a racist institution.
This is absolutely and unequivocally racist. This is an egregious power play.
These students have watched other schools and learned that they can Mau Mau school administrators into stepping down and giving them everything by making racial demands and chanting slogans.
These students have succeeded in destroying this production. They may succeed at destroying performance art.
If their demands are accepted now, what is next? An end to color blind, talent only math competition or science fairs?
Is it racist to be color blind and talent focused when looking for a heart surgeon? I guess it is now. Sorry grandpa, you’ll be missed.
Administrators need to grow a pair and stand up to these kids. They use accusations of racism as a weapon. Mao said “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” In 21st century Progressiveness, political power grows out of accusations of racism on Facebook.
Every administrator that gives in only makes this worse. There should only be one response to a list of demands like this from students.