High School Cancels Musical After White Student Lands Lead Role

Whitewashing has long been a problem in Hollywood, but a recent casting diversity outcry has proven that it’s one that plagues even the smaller productions. Students at a New York high school joined forces to get their school’s spring production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame shut down after a role intended for a woman of color was given to a white student.

The catalyst for this student movement was 17-year-old Maddi Carroll, who decided to quit Ithaca High School’s annual production after the role of Esmeralda, a Romani woman, was given to a white actress. “It shows you that theatre wasn’t made for you,” Carroll told Ithaca Journal. “And it shows you that, if you can’t get the parts that are written for you, what parts are you going to get?”

Carroll’s departure sparked the members of Students United Ithaca to write a letter demanding a more inclusive production. The students wrote, “At best, this is cultural appropriation. At worst, it is whitewashing, a racist casting practise which has its roots in minstrelsy. It also reinforces the damaging narrative that only white power structures can save oppressed people, rather than people of color having the fortitude to do so themselves.”

These students’ voices were eventually heard and it wasn’t long before Ithaca High School decided to cancel the spring production. Instead, the high school opted to put on a more collaborative project. However, this replacement hasn’t quite placated these activist students. In fact, it prompted them to post a list of demands for the Ithaca City School District.

The Ithaca City School District responded to the casting outcries by releasing a statement on their website, writing, “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.”

A new production, however, isn’t the change these students were looking for. Despite the district stating that this matter “is not about any particular faculty member or ICSD employee,” Students United Ithaca is demanding a new “socially conscious” director to replace the current one.

“This issue is bigger than one part in one musical in one place,” Carroll told Ithaca Journal. “It’s very very systemic and is very deeply rooted in how we learn and what we do every day. So, we next want to go to the school. We want to branch out from the arts to the school in general and we want to try and make a change.”

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