A local theatre in Kansas City, MO has found itself at the center of some controversy over its firing of an actress apparently due to comments she had made on social media.
When Musical Theater Heritage announced the cast for their upcoming production of In the Heights, people noticed that the actress cast as Nina, was white. Many criticized the theatre for whitewashing the show and some threatened to boycott.
Days after the outrage was made public, the show’s producers announced that they were making a casting change for the role and that the previous actress has been let go from the production. However, according to them it was due to alleged “hate speech” on her Facebook page and not the fact that she had been miscast in a whitewashed role.
According to sources, the post that caused her dismissal is shown below.
The post in question is related to President Trump’s recent comments about Rep. Omar. This post would suggest that the actress agrees with Trump’s comments, which have been called racist by many.
After the actress’ firing, the theatre’s Facebook page has been flooded with comments both agreeing and condemning their actions. Many have said that the theatre has “bent to the will of Marxists” and violated this actress’ free speech. Some are also saying that the theatre is using this as a scapegoat to cover up the issue that they cast a white woman in a Latina role, in the first place.
In 2019, the subject of whitewashing roles has, thankfully, gained so much attention that I find it hard to believe that theatres who continue to do it, are naive that its an issue. This theatre should have known that casting a white woman in the role of Nina(who is described as a Latina in the licensing material), was not the right move and shouldn’t have happened.
So the fact that they used the actress’ social media post as an excuse to fire her, is something that should never have had entered the conversation. My question is, if she didn’t post that, would she have remained in the role? It would appear that the theatre is using this as a reason in order to make themselves look somehow more noble for dismissing this actress from the show, when in fact they screwed up before that. According to sources, this was also not the only whitewashed role, which makes me wonder why the entire show hasn’t been recast.
According to statements made by the actress on social media, she claims she was asked to audition for the role. This, again, calls into question the producer’s intentions. The director, who happens to be a black woman, refused to comment on the casting change. At this time, it’s unknown if she asked the actress to audition and cast her or if it was the producers’ choice.
Another issue that has to be discussed is their claim that the post constitutes as “hate speech.”
As far as I’ve been told, the actress was fired for the above social media post. Given the definition of the term, I’m not 100% sure this is actually “hate speech.”
The definition is as follows: “abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.”
Now, is it a dumb political opinion that I happen to disagree with? 100% yes. Do I think people who hold such opinions belong in the theatre? No. Do I want someone who shares this view portraying a Latina role? Hell no.
But does it constitute as “hate speech”? I had to ask another source.
I spoke with a free speech attorney who happens to be a friend and showed them the above post. This is what they had to say,
“Given what we’ve seen judged in court as hate speech, this doesn’t rise to that level. The person in question doesn’t use racial slurs, encourage violence or suggest abuse. Whether or not it’s racist, hateful or abusive would be based more on opinion rather than fact.”
My legal source also told me that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter would likely not delete the comment if it was reported as hate speech. I followed up by asking if this actress would have grounds to sue the theatre for wrongful termination.
“She might have a strong enough case,” they said. “There is nothing here that would automatically dismiss that claim.”
Given that MTH is a professional paying theatre company, this might be the beginning of some legal issues down the road. Either way, they would have saved a lot of trouble by simply casting the role as it was written in the first place. In 2019, after everything that’s been said already, I have no sympathy for a professional theatre company claiming to “unknowingly” whitewash their productions. At this point, they should know better.