Ignorance & Double-Standards For the Win — Not!

Ignorance & Double-Standards For the Win — Not!

Ignorance & Double-Standards For the Win — Not!

Once again, ignorance and the desire to be politically correct have combined to cause more harm than good and the student body at Ithaca High School are the losers.

In this case, the high school canceled plans to put on a production of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame after an African-American student quit the production. The reason? A white student had been chosen to play the role of Esmerelda. “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?” Except, if you look at Esmerelda as written by Victor Hugo, she wasn’t exactly what this student believes.

Student activists admitted the young woman cast in the role was “a stellar actor, singer, and dancer.” They even said any production would be lucky to have her as part of the cast. But that doesn’t matter. All that did was the color of her skin. According to these so-called activists, she shouldn’t be cast as Esmerelda because she was the “epitome of whiteness.” It is also important to know these so-called activists numbered five students. Yes, you read that right – five. Three of them had been cast in the production. They had collected 22 signatures on a letter protesting the casting and that, in turn, got members of the community involved. In other words, a very small minority of students managed to derail something the vast majority of their peers had no problem with. In fact, they had no issue with the student cast except for their own misconception about the character.

Thanks to Hollywood, and especially Disney, the current generation of high schoolers operate under a misconception about Esmerelda. They see a “gypsy,” a person of color, not someone who is the “epitome of whiteness.” As one parent said, when she learned the school planned to put on the musical, she was “thrilled that a musical with a leading role of a female of color would be performed on the school’s stage.”

And that is the problem. This parent, not to mention the students protesting the production, based their objections on source material that was not true to the original. In Victor Hugo’s novel, Esmerelda is presented as a Romani gypsy throughout most of the book. However, at the end, it is revealed that her mother was a Frenchwoman and Esmerelda had been kidnapped by the gypsies as a baby the deformed Quasimodo was left in her place. The background of her father is never revealed.  That revelation, however, is not part of the Disney cartoon Instead, Esmerelda is “the most divergent character in the Disney version from the book in both looks and personality” and that helped lead to the situation Ithaca High School found itself in.

Ignorance of the source material and a lack of backbone by school administrators perpetuates the misconception about the original source material. It also does a grave disservice to all the students at the high school. It teaches talent and ability don’t matter if someone objects because you are the “epitome of whiteness,” even if the person protesting is wrong in their protest. Worse, and again with thanks to Hollywood and now Broadway, it teaches a double-standard that will eventually come back to haunt those students.

One of the most well-received musicals in years to grace Broadway has been Hamilton. The casting of persons of color in the roles of our founding fathers has been applauded as close to revolutionary and visionary. It also reinforces the double-standard that it is all right to cast persons of color in roles, especially historical roles, of people who were white, but you don’t dare cast a white in a role that calls for a person of color. At a time when the media continues to call out Hollywood for “whitewashing” when it comes to casting, this trend of going in the opposite direction seems a bit hypocritical.

What will happen when schools start putting on their own productions of Hamilton? Will they get in trouble for not casting a Hispanic as Hamilton or an African-American as Burr because that is how they were cast in the “original” musical?

Don’t get me wrong. I want two things when I go to a movie or play. I want the best performance possible. That means the most talented actors must be cast. I also want authenticity. But that doesn’t mean I can’t look beyond the color of a person’s skin if they can handle the role. What I don’t want is someone being cast simply because of the color of their skin.

That’s especially true when false assumptions are being made about a character based on an inaccurate portrayal of that character in a cartoon made by a company represented as a mouse.

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  • GWB says:

    It’s friggin’ HIGH SCHOOL! Why are these students even getting a say in putting on the production? If they’re theater students, then I (as the teacher) simply give them a big, fat F for not doing their parts. If it’s a volunteer production then I would simply recast the parts.

    And, I would explain to them, “Do you see a hunchback here? Do you see a dang gypsy in this room? Do any of you even speak French?! Then QUIT GRIPING ABOUT AUTHENTICITY in a damned play and FRIGGIN’ ACT!”
    With the shorter “Shut up and ACT!” anytime any of them started with the philosophical onanism.

    • Amanda Green says:

      More to the point, why are only 3 students involved in the production getting a say? Dollars to doughnuts, this all started with the mother who was so “thrilled” to see they were going to do a play with a POC main character. She didn’t know anything other than the Disney character and latched onto that for her outrage. Outrage she gave to her daughter and anyone else who would listen.

      the district, as so many do these days, caved to the vast minority to avoid anything that might look like they weren’t socially enlightened. It didn’t matter the protesters were wrong. It didn’t matter they even admitted the girl cast in the role was an excellent actress and singer and an asset to any production. The admins had to flail themselves and the school in collective, historical guilt. After all, they could allow the school or the production to be tainted with the accusation of “epitome of whiteness”. It’s all BS.

    • GWB says:

      Oh, and I would also have made guys play all the girl parts, so they could learn a little history, too. (I don’t think it was until the 16th or 17th century that women could do something so debased as …. act.)

      (Based on Hollyweird lately, I have to wonder if the old distaste for actors wasn’t founded in something more fundamental than culture.)

  • MikeyParks says:

    You can’t blame the crybabies. They’ve been taught that crying will get them what they want. Only if crying doesn’t work anymore will they stop.

    • Amanda Green says:

      Which is why I heap a great deal of the blame on the school. It should have stood up for its students and its drama department instead of giving in to three dissatisfied kids and a couple of their friends.

  • Chris in N.Va says:

    The supposedly adults (using that term quite loosely) in this whole thing demonstrated a literary knowledge that is — how shall we put it? — niggardly in the extreme.

    On a similar note, it was amusing a few years ago in the nearby Emerald City of Odds (otherwise known as D.C,) when a city councilmember went all DEFCON 1 on another councilmember’s use of the word “niggardly” referring to some folks understanding of an issue. The ensuing carnival of outrage quickly backfired into the face of the offended party whose hyperventilating only highlighted his/her own niggardly vocabulary. Great fun to observe!

    • Amanda Green says:

      I wish that was the only example, of course any time I can laugh at DC is a good time. Facebook has banned people for the use of niggardly. They’ve also issued bans to those same people using “fags” as slang for cigarettes. One of my FB friends made it his calling for a while to see how many words he could use properly and get banned because the PC crowd didn’t know the word and just assumed it was racist, etc.

    • Jim says:

      It appears that literacy and a broad vocabulary is frequently lacking in the permanently offended and often ignorant bands of protesting SJWs everywhere who demonstrate in the best Pavlovian manner their own idiocy.

      Some years ago here in Australia an Aboriginal civil rights activist was reported to have demanded that a certain brand of cheese be re-branded as its name cause him offence. He demanded that ‘Kuhn Cheese’ be renamed as it offended him. He was obviously thinking of the pejorative ‘coon’ and had little understanding or interest that European languages and the words/names used may sound similar to English words, be legitimate and have different respectable meanings. [I might add there is also a brand of Kuhn farm equipment from Europe.]

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