Remember the Seyi Omooba controversy? Back in March 2019, she was cast as the lead in the Curve Theatre’s production of The Color Purple. Soon after this was announced, a Facebook post from 2014 emerged in which Omooba said that she believed homosexuality was a sin. Many people complained that someone with such beliefs would be cast to play an LGBT character such as Celie (who, after suffering abuse, falls in love with another woman).
Such was the furore that the theatre recast the role, and Ms Omooba was dropped by her agents. She took them both to an Employment Tribunal, claiming discrimination based on her religious beliefs. I wrote about the case at the time, asking whether homophobic views should receive any kind of special protection when veiled by religious belief. I also wondered why a five-year-old Facebook post had been ‘dredged up’ and whether Ms Omooba had ‘kept her views to herself’ or been sufficiently evangelical that it was appropriate that they affected her employment prospects.
Whenever there is a free speech controversy, many people like to parrot a common refrain: “Free speech does not mean freedom from consequences.”
This is true, but it’s also incomplete. Free speech does (or should) mean freedom from some consequences. For example, it can never be appropriate to murder cartoonists because of offensive drawings, or to issue a fatwa in response to a magical-realist novel that insults a particular religion.
Most free speech controversies that splatter themselves over the tabloids and Twitter timelines are really an argument about what consequences are appropriate for the perceived transgression.
Most people agree that the most extreme punishments are rarely, if ever, appropriate. No one should ever be subject to violence because of what they say or believe, and criminalising someone for what they have said should be limited to those who actively incite violence. Continue reading “Religious Freedom, Free Speech and Employment Rights: the case of Seyi Omooba”
‘Actress who lost her dream role after quoting Bible on Facebook sues for religious discrimination’ reports the Daily Mail.
Here we have one of those fascinating and incredibly tricky cases where different human rights seem to be in conflict. Whatever the outcome of the case, it will make some people very angry. Continue reading “Notes on Seyi Omooba's Religious Discrimination Case”
Last week, the award-winning Indian playwright Abhishek Majumdar posted a disconcerting message on Facebook, regarding his play Pah-la.
My dear Tibetan Friends, in Tibet and in exile, who have contributed extensively to the writing of Pah-la, I regret to inform you that the play has hit a roadblock again.
It was supposed to open on 4th October 2017, at the Royal Court Theatre, in London, with its poster printed and rehearsals fixed, when the British Council China pressurised the theatre to withdraw it from opening because of a program in China that they were running together.
Continue reading “Quoted in the Observer, Discussing Artistic Freedom”
The Royal Court Theatre has cancelled a revival of Rita, Sue and Bob Too, Andrea Dunbar’s 1982 play about grooming and sexual exploitation. The cancellation came after it was revealed in October that Max Stafford-Clark, who directed the original production and co-directed the revival, had been forced to resign as creative director of Out of Joint due to multiple allegations of ‘inappropriate behaviour.’
The venue had recently staged No Grey Area, an event in which 150 stories of sexual abuse and exploitation were shared over the course of an afternoon. The Royal Court’s artistic director Vicky Featherstone has called for the British theatre community to reckon with the abuses of power, just as Hollywood is doing now that the extent of Harvey Weinstein’s monstrous behaviour has been revealed. In this context, says the theatre, staging Rita, Sue and Bob Too is “highly conflictual.”
I spoke to New York Times correspondent Anna Codrea-Rado about the cancellation and am quoted in her report: Continue reading “Quoted in the New York Times discussing the cancellation of Rita, Sue and Bob Too”
This week 59 Productions (the radical design and production company than I had a hand in setting up) announced their latest project. Its an adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass by Duncan Macmillian, the acclaimed writer of People Places Things. The show is directed by my friend Leo Warner and is a co-production with Home and the Lyric Hammersmith.
City of Glass (part of Auster’s New York Triology) is an intriguing post-modern detective story that plays with ideas of reality, identity and imagination. I think its a perfect fit for the kind of art that Warner and the remarkable 59 Productions team create. In a recent interview with the Financial Times, he outlines their approach. Continue reading “59 Productions to produce City of Glass for the stage”