Ithaca High School planned to put on a production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” this semester, but the musical was derailed after students protested the casting of a white girl as a Roman gypsy, according to the Ithaca Journal.
When a white actress received the role of Esmeralda, who the original novel says is half Roma and half French, several students dropped out of the play and formed an activist group to protest.
The group wrote a letter calling the casting “cultural appropriation” and “whitewashing” because the woman who got the role is the “epitome of whiteness,” even while acknowledging that she was “a stellar actor, singer and dancer” that any stage would be “lucky to have.”
The students demanded that the school either choose a different show and hold new auditions, or do “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” but recruit black and brown female students to play the role of Esmeralda.
How did the school respond?
Instead, the school canceled the musical, saying it wanted to be “more inclusive and culturally responsive” and “eliminate institutional biases.”
After the musical was canceled, the students added a demand to remove the director of the musicals and hire the director of a local theatre company for the next musical.
An undetermined replacement production will take place this spring, according to the school’s website:
“As you may already be aware, The Hunchback of Notre Dame will not be performed this spring. In lieu of the planned musical, another collaborative project will provide young people and our community the opportunity to engage together while fully expressing the talents of our students. 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.”