Ithaca High School in New York has canceled its production of the musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame because a black student complained about the casting of a white student in the role of Esmerelda, the French Roma gypsy.
The black student was also cast in the production in another role but quit, saying, “It shows you that theater wasn’t made for you. And it shows you that, if you can’t get the parts that are written for you, what parts are you going to get?”
The walkout garnered support from the social justice group on campus, Students United Ithaca, which issued a list of demands from their school:
STOP rehearsals for 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame.' STOP the racist and openly stated policy of ‘color blind’ casting in the ICSD… 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.”
Other students joined in writing letters demanding “conscious casting” and slammed the teachers responsible for casting a white girl as Esmerelda, claiming they culturally appropriated and whitewashed the character; thus “reinforcing the white savior stereotype,” as Legal Insurrection noted.
That was enough for the high school to cave completely and cancel the entire production:
The active community engagement and conversation about the selection of the Hunchback of Notre Dame for the Ithaca High School musical has led to many conversations in our school district. This dialogue has affirmed our observations and wishes to have a more inclusive and culturally responsive learning community. In short, our efforts to eliminate institutional biases are ongoing.
We wish to thank the students, parents, caregivers, and educators for the reflections, support, and constructive feedback shared regarding Ithaca High School’s performing arts program. This is not about any particular faculty member or ICSD employee. We are greatly appreciative of the hard work and dedication that ICSD teachers and employees have given, and continue to give, to our students. We look forward to working together, as a beloved community, as we forge a path forward.
As you may already be aware, The Hunchback of Notre Dame will not be performed this spring. In lieu of the planned musical, another collaborative project will provide young people and our community the opportunity to engage together while fully expressing the talents of our students. A new project is currently being discussed by students, families, and educators. This project will also engage the talents and skills of students previously cast. More information will follow shortly.
We thank everyone for their contributions as we delve further into complex conversations. In addition, we ask that you please stay engaged as we continually work to create community-wide support for our students and school community.
As Legal Insurrection’s Kimberlee Kaye rightly points out, “The thoughts and feelings of the actress who was cast as Esmerelda have received no mention in any local reporting to date, which is par for the course as collective victimhood hardly considers the actual victims of social justice and discrimination.”
Yes, and that’s a lot of power to give one student to quit and snowball all of the other students who were working hard to make it the best production possible and — gasp — have a little fun in the process.
This teaches kids that whiners get their way. Terrible.