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Casting Controversy Derailed a High School Play. Then Came the Threats.

And whilst two productions of the new musical — its premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse in California in 2014 and one in 2015 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey — gave the phase to a girl of colour, Ciara Renée, the casting requires the ones displays invited actresses of all ethnicities to audition for the position. Music Theatre International, the licensing corporate that holds the rights to “Hunchback,” says that Esmeralda is a feminine, elderly between 20 and 30, and that she is a “beautiful and free-spirited gypsy who possesses the strong sense of justice and morality.”

But in the Disney movie, Esmeralda has a darkish complexion. And this is the model that Ithaca High School scholars grew up gazing. That depiction, plus the precedent of Ms. Renée’s casting, led some to imagine the phase would cross to considered one of the highschool’s scholars of colour, who make up 34 p.c of the scholar frame.

Maddi Carroll, a 17-year-old African-American senior, stated the highschool’s staging of “Hunchback” was once to start with thrilling to her “because we didn’t feel like our high school usually put on productions with women of color in starring roles.”

“We were talking about us being younger and thinking about Disney princesses we had to look up to. For us, we really had Jasmine and Esmeralda,” she added, referring additionally to the “Aladdin” persona.

In the fall, after a white scholar was once solid as Esmeralda for the display, a workforce of 5 classmates, together with Ms. Carroll, shaped Students United Ithaca. They started writing letters and organizing a marketing campaign in opposition to the musical.


Disney’s depiction of Esmeralda in its 1996 animated movie.


In January, Annabella Mead-VanCort, a senior who didn't audition for the play, wrote a letter to Tompkins Weekly, a native newsletter, and had greater than two dozen co-signers. It asserted that Esmeralda was once as it should be depicted in the Disney movie and that the phase was once written for a younger girl of colour. “Esmeralda is a Roma, part of an oppressed class of people,” she wrote. “It is her oppression, and that of her people, which allows her to better understand the perspective of the Hunchback and to ultimately advocate for him.”

After the outcry, the faculty board held a neighborhood assembly on Jan. 23, when a selection of scholars confirmed up dressed in black in harmony with the younger activists, together with Prachi Ruina, who had auditioned for the musical, and was once solid in the ensemble.

“I call upon you to stop this musical now,” she stated to the board. “You tear a community apart if you don’t.”

The subsequent day, the faculty board introduced that “Hunchback” can be pulled and a new manufacturing can be proposed.

Mike Ellis, the father of the younger actress who was once firstly solid as Esmeralda, stated in an interview about the scholars’ protest: “Even though it involved a sacrifice on my daughter’s part, I think the questions that they’re asking are good, important questions that any school should want to ask itself.”

The occasions have been reported on Jan. 29 in The Ithaca Journal. On Feb. five, Breitbart picked up the information, writing that Esmeralda’s race “shouldn’t matter.” The newsletter has coated Hollywood’s contemporary casting controversies, together with accusations of whitewashing when a white actor was once solid in the movie “Hellboy” to play a persona portrayed as Asian in the unique comedian ebook.

The Daily Stormer printed a submit about the highschool’s determination. Mainstream nationwide shops, together with Fox News and The Washington Times, amplified the dialog.

The feedback on-line was unpleasant. On a 4chan, an nameless message board, one submit stated that the scholars “need to be ‘dealt’ with.” The Students United Ithaca Facebook web page was once specifically vitriolic, with some individuals receiving personal messages pronouncing, “You are the real Nazis of this country,” and “You’re a pathetic racist scum group.”

Ms. Ruina was once informed to return to India. On Facebook, one African-American scholar’s private web page was once tagged in a public remark that used a racial epithet, pronouncing he “is the reason we are looking for trees.” The scholar interpreted this as a danger of lynching.

The Ithaca High School foremost didn’t reply to a request for remark, nor did the faculty district’s superintendent. Dr. Sean Eversley Bradwell, vice chairman of the Ithaca Board of Education, wrote in an e-mail that the board was once “very concerned about the level of vitriol directed at our students.” He additionally stated the district had gained greater than 100 indignant voice mail messages and 50 emails.

The trolling has been taxing for the scholars. “This is very, very surreal,” Ms. Carroll stated, including, “It’s a lot to handle as a 17-year-old who is in high school right now, applying to college, trying to get ready for that stuff.”

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