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.