British Columbia

Play with blackface cancelled in Surrey, B.C., after complaints

A new Arab-American theatrical production called Double Trouble was supposed to play at Surrey's Bell Performing Arts Centre Saturday night, but has since been cancelled due to complaints the play uses blackface.

The play, called Double Trouble, is a production of Detroit-based Arab-American theatre company Ajyal

A still from the trailer of Double Trouble, where a character dons blackface. (Im Hussein/YouTube)

A new Arab-American theatrical production called Double Trouble was supposed to play at Surrey's Bell Performing Arts Centre Saturday night, but has since been cancelled due to complaints the play uses blackface.

The play, by the Detroit-based company Ajyal, is on a worldwide tour including stops in the United States, Australia and Canada. It already had showings in Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto, and Saturday's show was its only planned performance in the Metro Vancouver region.

Part of the plot involves a Nigerian man, described as a scammer and depicted in the play by using blackface. There is another character in the play who wears an exaggerated Chinese costume.

Aziz Charaboty, the director of the play, defended the show saying it was a satirical comedy. He said the ultimate message was that colour, race, religion and sexual orientation don't matter, and that all human beings were deserving of respect.

Double Trouble, which was supposed to show at the Bell Performing Arts Centre in Surrey on Saturday, has been cancelled. (Bell Performing Arts Centre)

But late Friday afternoon, the Surrey School District — which co-runs the performing arts centre — issued a statement saying it had cancelled the play receiving complaints the play was racist. 

"Surrey Schools does not condone racism and takes matters of this nature very seriously," a statement from the board read. 

"We have examined the situation very carefully and have decided to cancel the production."

Can't fight racism with racism 

Aslam Bulbulia is a member of a group called "No Blackface Vancouver," the group that had been at the forefront of the complaint. 

"You can't use blackface in an attempt to do anti-racist work," Bulbulia said, adding the play uses unfair stereotypes about Nigerians, Africans and Chinese people. 

"We commend that attempt to use stage and theatre to promote messages of anti-racism, but unfortunately in the process what's happening is to try and combat anti-Arab racism, they are perpetuating forms of anti-black racism as well as anti-Chinese racism."

Bulbulia said some hesitated to come out with a critique because there's so little representation for racialized communities in the first place.

"But in Vancouver in particular, and amongst the black friends that we have who saw the trailer ... they were deeply hurt by the fact that this would still be going on," he said. 

Bulbulia says he's glad the Surrey School District cancelled the show, but wished it did not have to escalate to this point.

"When we reached out a week ago to the directors, to the producers, we would have preferred to have some dialogue and communication and some openness around the ... problematic nature of this," he said. 

The play's next stop is New Jersey next week.

Listen to the segment here:

With files from On The Coast, Rohit Joseph