School cancels play after outcry over white student cast in lead role

A production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame was canceled at an upstate school after an uproar over a white student being cast in a lead role.

It happened at Ithaca High school.  Students complained, and sent a letter of protest after a white girl was cast in the role of Esmerelda.  The students behind the letter say the role was written for a woman of color.

In a letter that was posted in Tomkins Weekly, the group of students said that the girl cast in the role is a "talented young woman" but "in terms of demographics, she is the wrong choice for this role" and is "the epitome of whiteness."

The letter went on to state:  "At best, this is cultural appropriation. At worst, it is whitewashing, a racist casting practice which has its roots in minstrelsy. It also reinforces the damaging narrative that only white power structures can save oppressed people, rather than people of color having the fortitude to do so themselves. It is in line with countless movies which portray white people coming into brown and black communities and saving them. We know from our history that it is people of color who have been at the forefront of social justice movements. This white centered narrative is inaccurate, damaging, and should never be reinforced on the stage of our beloved high school."

The letter asked the school to choose a different show with new auditions or recruit more brown and black female students for roles in the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The school district has now canceled the production in response to the complaints and said a "collaborative project" would replace the show.  Statement posted on the district website said "A new project is currently being discussed by students, families, and educators.  This project will also engage the talents and skills of students previously cast.  More information will follow shortly."