A London, Ont., high school has pulled the plug on plans to stage the musical The Wiz this year amid criticism the production would be a "white-washing" of the Wizard of Oz adaptation told from an African American perspective.
H.B. Beal Secondary School principal Michael Deeb said the decision came on Thursday, a little more than a week after the school announced The Wiz as its annual production.
"The team has decided to respect and listen to the voices in our community and choose another production," said Deeb. "We want to be culturally sensitive. It's a good learning piece for everyone. We value the input from our community. In that spirit, we're going to be choosing another production."
For years, Beal's renown Musical Theatre program has staged well-reviewed student productions of musicals including West Side Story, Les Miserables and Fame.
On Oct. 4, the school posted a Facebook video revealing The Wiz was chosen as this school year's production.
Wave of criticism
This year's choice of musical came under fire because The Wiz retells the Wizard of Oz story from a black, urban perspective.
Alexandra Kane, a local performer and owner of the AK Arts Academy, published a letter of protest on Facebook on Thursday. She expressed concern it would be a "white-washed" production of a musical written in part as a response to an under-representation of black stories on Broadway and in film.
Kane feared Beal's production would feature a predominantly white cast. Officials at the school had not yet announced the cast for its production of The Wiz.
"To do this musical without the proper cast and crew is egregious and disrespectful to a culture [that] continues to struggle on a daily basis, battling discrimination, racism, and cultural appropriation," she wrote in the protest letter posted on Facebook.
Previously, The Wiz has been produced as a Broadway musical, a 1978 movie starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Richard Pryor and a 2015 television production starring singer Mary J. Blige and hip-hop artist/actor Queen Latifah.
In an interview with CBC, Kane said The Wiz is an inherently black story.
Though The Wiz has similarities to the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz and the 1900 book that inspired it, the Dorothy in The Wiz is a young black woman trying to imagine a future beyond her home borough of Harlem.
She struggles with her identity and sense of being contained by a world that doesn't understand her.
"The world has shunned her for who she is, a black female," Kane wrote. "So often the black race is told or shown we can't rise above because of our culture, lifestyle, surroundings and colour."
'Not appropriate' for the cast
Kane applauded Beal's decision to not produce The Wiz this year, saying the show is "not appropriate for the cast that they have."
"I'm sad for the kids, I know they were excited to do this show. I hate for them to have gone through this for it to be taken away from them. But I'm glad that Beal listened to the feedback from the community."
She said the incident can be a positive lesson about why it's important to understand the deeper meaning behind plays and musicals they choose to produce.
"They completely ignored the cultural representation required to do this show," she said. "They disregarded the fact that it's a play by African Americans for African Americans. They missed the mark."
Beal has not selected a timeline for deciding which musical it will produce this year and stage in May.