A spring production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame was axed after students at Ithaca High School, in the state of New York, pushed back against the lack of diversity in the casting of the female lead.
During the casting of the production, which was announced last fall, a white student was cast in the role of Esmeralda, a Romani gypsy. This decision inspired Maddi Carroll, a Black 17-year-old senior, to leave her role as an ensemble member of the production, reported the Ithaca Journal.
Members of Student United Ithaca penned a letter demanding changes be made to the casting or a new show be chosen for the spring musical.
“Esmeralda is accurately depicted in the Disney musical, and is written for, a young woman of color. Esmeralda is a Roma, part of an oppressed class of people,” they wrote in the letter.
“The young woman who was cast in this role has hazel eyes, blonde hair, and is the epitome of whiteness. This is an unfair position to put her in. 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,” the letter stated.
On Wednesday, the school canceled the spring production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
In place of the musical, a collaborative project with the students and members of the community will take place, announced the Ithaca City School District on Monday.
The project "will provide young people and our community the opportunity to engage together while fully expressing the talents of our students," the statement says. "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,” according to a statement posted to the district website.
Students United Ithaca planned to meet with the administration of the Ithaca City School district to discuss future plans.