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High School play cancelled after activists object to “colorblind casting”

High School play cancelled after activists object to “colorblind casting”

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at Ithaca High School isn’t happening after protests over casting a white student in the role of Esmerelda.

Ithaca, NY, is a notoriously liberal town, and is the home of Cornell University.

Ithaca High School’s spring musical was “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” A story whose message is one of inclusiveness and acceptance should be welcomed and encouraged.


A white actress was cast for the role of Esmerelda, prompting a student black actress to quite the play, 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?” reported the Ithaca Journal

The resignation prompted Students United Ithaca to make a list of demands for the school, one of which was, “STOP the racist and openly stated policy of “color blind” casting in the ICSD,” before descending into a diatribe about institutional racism and white supremacy, “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.”

Their demands:

And other students wrote letters discussing the need for “conscious casting” and asserted that casting a white actress in the role of Esmerelda was cultural appropriation, whitewashing, and reinforcing the white savior stereotype.

It has come to our attention that Ithaca High School will be mounting the musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This is a musical which centers around a critical message. It is a message of inclusion, particularly for those who have historically been oppressed. We could not be more in favor of this musical, particularly in such a divisive time in our nation.

Unfortunately, it has also come to our attention that the casting of this musical is antithetical to the very message which beats throughout the heart of the musical itself. We speak, specifically, of the casting choice of the role of Esmerelda. 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.

Esmerelda is accurately depicted in the Disney musical, and is written for, a young woman of color. Esmerelda is a Roma, part of an oppressed class of people. It is her oppression, and that of her people, which allows her to better understand the perspective of the Hunchback and to ultimately advocate for him. She sings a song in which she calls to the heavens, asking God to save her people. “God Save My People, hungry at birth, show them the Mercy, they don’t find on Earth.” She cries out for justice. In the movie, she raises her fist in the air and yells “Justice!” and explains that the Hunchback is being oppressed, just like her people.

The young woman who was cast in this role has hazel eyes, blonde hair, and is the epitome of whiteness. This is an unfair position to put her in. At best, this is cultural appropriation. At worst, it is whitewashing, a racist casting practice 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. It is in line with countless movies which portray white people coming into brown and black communities and saving them. We know from our history that it is people of color who have been at the forefront of social justice movements. This white centered narrative is inaccurate, damaging, and should never be reinforced on the stage of our beloved high school.

The arts are the place where we create our narratives about society. This casting can not stand. Not now, not ever. We call upon the adults in the ICSD, the adults who hold the power, to step in and right this situation.

The school capitulated and issued a statement canceling the musical.

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.

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.


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Well, they do have this….

    Another Voice in reply to Anchovy. | January 31, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    Ithaca Gun left Ithaca many years ago leaving a polluted gorge which has undergone two major super fund cleanups for lead. It has never been able to be purged, so it is now being covered over where doable, though each spring more rains down into the gorge from the former factory site at the top and as a result is always in need of remediation.

    After many re-organizations and several re-locations, trademarks, licensing, manufacturing rights etc. are now with a company in Ohio.

    harleycowboy in reply to Anchovy. | February 1, 2018 at 11:02 am

    The Ithaca Gun Company has nothing to do with the article. Please stay on topic.

So it was never about equal opportunity, was it? Only about proportional results.

I always like music and singing contests where the judges are prevented from seeing the contesting entrants. Focus solely on the achievement presented – the music or singing created by the artist.

The left hates achievement/merit because it shows that some cultures are better than others. Ask the Asians.

So these protesters would have a problem with Idris Elba as James Bond? Somehow I suspect they’d be ok with that.

    Observer in reply to BrokeGopher. | February 1, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    Yes, just like they had no problem with Diana Ross playing the Dorothy role in The Wiz.

    How could a rich black woman from Detroit possibly relate to the struggles of a poor white farm girl from the rural mid-west?

    No doubt Ms. Ross is a talented singer and actress, but this was an unfair position to put her in. At best, this was cultural appropriation. At worst, it was black-washing, a racist casting practice which has its roots in black victimization mythology.

    In the interests of real social justice, no blacks or other minorities should ever again be cast in roles written by or for white people!

Casting a Black student to play the part of a Roma, would be cultural appropriation, would it not?

    4th armored div in reply to jl. | January 31, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    Roma, are a traditionally itinerant ethnic group, living mostly in Europe and the Americas and originating from the northern Indian subcontinent

    so tanned/white NOT black.

    aggiecon in reply to jl. | January 31, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    This Ithaca logic might severely limit the career prospects of any aspiring black actress, as she would be excluded from any role in a Shakespeare play.

      artichoke in reply to aggiecon. | February 1, 2018 at 2:09 pm

      You don’t understand, this only works one way. It’s fair when a white role is given to a black, unfair when a black role (even if it isn’t a black role but a role for short swarthy whites) is given to a white.

      Got it now? Good, there will be a quiz next Monday.

    infiniteloops in reply to jl. | February 4, 2018 at 10:53 am

    Problem is, Esmerelda, whose real name was Agnes, was not Roma, she was a white orphan.

4th armored div | January 31, 2018 at 6:53 pm

Ithaca Senior High School serves 1,395 students in grades 9-12.

The student:teacher ratio of 14:1 is equal to the NY average of 14:1.

Minority enrollment is 34% of the student body (majority Asian and Black), which is less than the state average of 55%.

Ithaca Senior High School operates within the Ithaca City School District.

–>Ithaca City School District’s 81% graduation rate is lower than the NY state average of 87%.<–

anything else ?

Yes cancel the dramatics program just stick with the Three R’s: Rioting, Revolution, and Rugmunching

” this is a musical which centers around inclusion”

Cultural appropriation. Its Anglo-Saxon. Get your own damn Musical. Lol.

amatuerwrangler | January 31, 2018 at 8:35 pm

“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.”

Since the inmates have successfully taken over the running of the institution, one can only wonder what this might be. This is not unexpected, if you think about it, since the Oscars have added an affirmative action component to selections.

Hopefully those close to the action will keep us updated, to include the coming elections to the school board.

Let me get this straight. A white girl shouldn’t play the part of a white gypsy because a lot of people don’t like gypsies so they don’t count as white people?

Does that mean only black people should play lawyers?

A significant number of black students at Ithaca essentially believed that Martin Luther King was a racist.

The faculty at Ithaca have failed these students, they should be ashamed. Whoever is in charge of this train wreck should fire everyone and then resign

DAMN what a BARGAIN this college is!!!

2018 – 2019 Undergraduate Cost of Attendance
Tuition and Fees $43,978
Room $8,568
Board $6,994

Hell, I can just stay home and watch MSNBC if I want to get my overdose of PC progaganda! For Free (except monthly cable bill of course.)

Humphrey's Executor | January 31, 2018 at 9:33 pm

Good. The name of the play is offensive. It should be re-titled as “The Person with Convex Kyphotic Curvature of the Spine of Notre Dame.”

Esmerelda is white.

So, if the play was Hamlet, the same people would be demanding the cast be 100% white, yes?

    Arminius in reply to Aarradin. | February 1, 2018 at 9:06 am

    Spike Lee tried and failed to call Clint Eastwood out for not casting Black Marines in Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.

    There were no black Marines on Iwo Jima. There were black soldiers, but they were laborers and took no part in the fighting. Sure, that was wrong and a serious misuse of manpower…,_IX_99,_Racial_Integration_for_Naval_Efficiency

    …But it’s a fact. Eastwood’s movie was historically accurate. Spike Lee wouldn’t b*** if the entire cast were black.

    Arminius in reply to Aarradin. | February 1, 2018 at 9:13 am

    How do people like Spike Lee want it? Either this country has a history of racial discrimination, or black admirals and generals commanded this nation to victory in WWII.

    Pick one.

guess they missed the play ‘Hamilton’ on Broadway.

We have the perfect play to replace this obviously biased monstrosity.

Lil’ Abner

Thank you, I’ll see myself out.

Wait a minute. “Hamilton“ featured a whole cast of ethnicities playing characters who historically were all white.

I also remember seeing a black man, Robert Guillaume, playing the Phantom of the Opera – a white character.

If we followed these students’ demands, none of these minority castings would have been allowed.

The good thing is I think these leftists have created more conservative voters.

    artichoke in reply to Sally MJ. | February 1, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    It’s fair when it goes that way, unfair when it goes the other way. That’s fair isn’t it?

    And if they don’t like what you do, they get to “interrupt” i.e. act out without the normal personal sanctions that come with such misbehavior.

How is it possible for anyone to not see just how wrong this is?

A play depicting the life and times of mooooochelle obama should be cast with a lead at least resembling her and acting like her.

These people are utterly insane, as obsessed as the National Socialists were with making race-based judgments and associated “rules.”

Gypsies belong to the ‘indo-aryan” group and “despite some isolation, the Roma were “genetically similar to other Europeans”

Meanwhile at my kids’ High School, they did “Fiddler on the Roof” and cast a black girl to play the role of the rabbi.

Someone should reboot Roots with a mixed race cast of slaves.

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell, 1984.

But pretty soon we’re not going to have a past, as all works that were not deliberately crafted to meet contemporary PC standards can possibly meet the requirements of these SJW’s.

In this Brave New World, only today’s latest and most insipid Disney production shall be deemed acceptable for public performance.

Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there’s your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more.” — Beatty’s Speech to Montag, from “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury.

like I care.

Another Voice | February 1, 2018 at 2:11 pm

The young ladies issues of the director and casting decisions should rightfully go as they have chosen to do, to the Board of Ed. as they are who hire by appointment. The problem is one of two things. In NYS, appointments should go to a employed faculty member first, if they apply for it. (qualifications not mandatory). If there or no internal applications they can go outside. Second, it then can become, Not what you know, it’s Who know. In Ithaca, the home of all things cultural, they line up to be employed. One of their demands was of a known and qualified theater director Joey Steinhagen, who has a local reputation working with Middle and High School musical productions and known to cast qualified students of color into leading roles. Their request for his being hired is a tell on their request to bring an alternate view. Not 15 miles up the road, a well produced and received musical production of “Annie”, a talented bi-racial Jamaican was cast as Daddy Warbucks. Perhaps it is the continued slight by those in charge of appointments who they are directing their displeasure with that has caused the pot to boil over.

    artichoke in reply to Another Voice. | February 1, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    So they’re supposed to bring in someone who will cast this role in a non-colorblind way? Perhaps they have some backbone and made a principled decision not to hire the approved racial healer.

Everyone knows the gypsies captured Esmeralda in the Congo where she was cutting diamonds for some evil Dutch frat boys.

I’m going to make an all white, hopefully with lots of blonde blue-eyed Danish chicks, version of Shaka Zulu.

The rewrite of history has gotten so bad that you can now take a tour of the USS Constitution and hear about the men and WOMEN who crewed her back when she was a real fighting ship. So why shouldn’t I get in on it.

The “heckler’s veto” strikes again.