A New York high school has cancelled its production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”—after a white student was cast in the lead.
Ithaca High School, in Ithaca, New York, cast a white student—who has not been publicly named—to star in the musical as Esmerelda. The character of Esmerelda is described in the original Victor Hugo novel, which the musical is based on, as half-Romani Gypsy and half-French.
One African-American student quit the musical, and complained to the local newspaper that she was frustrated at being passed over for the lead.
“It shows you that theater wasn’t made for you,” she fumed. “And it shows you that, if you can’t get the parts that are written for you, what parts are you going to get?”
After her complaints, students banded together and wrote a list of demands—namely, that the student cast as Esmerelda should be forcibly removed from the role. Even though they described the student as “a stellar actor, singer, and dancer,” they claimed she shouldn’t have the role because she is, apparently, the “epitome of whiteness.”
“At best, this is cultural appropriation,” the students wrote in a letter, and “at worst, it is whitewashing, a racist casting practice which has its roots in minstrelsy.”
They stressed that “brown and black female students” should instead be considered for the role, despite the ethnic heritage of the character of Esmerelda.
As a result of the student demands, the Ithaca City School District announced it would cancel the musical, claiming that doing so was helping them to be “more inclusive and culturally responsive.”