Is this racism?

There is a debate that has been raging passionately but quietly for a few weeks now that I wanted to share with the Dopers.

The school where I work puts on four plays a year, with the last being a musical, a collaboration between the music and drama departments. The musical chosen this year is “The Lion King” As most of the parts involve both acting and singing, casting decisions were made jointly by the school’s music teacher and drama teacher. Shortly after the cast was announced and rehearsals began, a teacher who had not seen any of the auditions attended one of the rehersals and accused the two teachers who had cast the play of racism.

The undisputed facts are these:

  1. A white boy was cast to play Simba, a Hispanic boy to play Mufasa, and an Asian girl to play Nala.

  2. Black girls were cast to play Zazu and Saribi, and black boys were cast to play Rifiki and Timon.

  3. Scar and Pumba were both played by Hispanic boys.

The argument made by the teacher claiming racism is as follows:

  1. Because the characters are Africans, first preference for all of the roles should have been African American students.

  2. Black students tried out for each of the lead roles, but none of the lead roles was cast to black students.

  3. The most prominent part cast to a black student was Rifiki, a monkey, which is a blantant example of racist stereotyping.

The response by the teachers who cast the play is as follows.

  1. The characters are animals. The race of the person playing an animal character is irrelevant.

  2. All roles were cast without regard to race. The only criteria were acting and singing ability.

  3. Every play put on this year has been cast without regard to race, resulting in black students sometims playing traditionally white roles: Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Hildy Johnson in the front page, Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath.

  4. Several important roles were cast to black students; Saribi, Zazu, Rifiki, and Pumba. This means that four of the 9 most prominent characters are played by black students.

  5. Applying this logic, Italian students should have gotten first preference for the leads in Romeo and Juliet, which would have prevented a black student from getting a lead role.

  6. Several black students tried out for the part of Rifiki; it would have been racism not to consider them for the part merely because they were black.

If you need any more details, I would be happy to supply them.

I have two questions.

  1. Is the specific example I cited racism?

  2. Under what circumstances should a role be cast only to a person of a particular race, and when should race be considered irrelevant?

Maybe someone should remind the accusing teachers that both of the actors who voiced Simba in the original were white, the actor who voiced Rafiki in the original was, indeed, African-American, and the original was a cartoon about animals, which don’t have any connection to what we call race.

No, this was not racism. The reaction to it, however, was kneejerk PC of the highest order.

In answer to your second question, the race of the actor should only be considered when the race of the character is actually specified, i.e. the role of Kim in Miss Saigon or Sister Hubert in Nunsense. This isn’t always the case, even, as shown by Yul Brynner’s long-standing run as the King of Siam in The King and I. I’m fairly sure Brynner wasn’t a Thai, or even Asian.

It seems to me that the teacher making the accusations is mixed up. Wouldn’t casting according to race be more racist than casting without regard to race?

Since lead roles are obviously open to blacks in this school, the charge certainly seems to be baseless. Putting on Othello every year and always casting a white Othello and a black Iago would probably cause me to raise an eyebrow, but this sounds like just personal problems from the “offended” teachers.

Brynner was born on Sakhalin Island, off the Pacific coast of Russia. He was therefore technically Asian, but I don’t know his actual racial background.

Most high schools these days cast without regards to race. I’ve seen three different productions of “Fiddler On the Roof” and all had racially mixed casts. I don’t know if any of the students playing the parts of the villagers were Jewish, or if the soldiers were of Russian heritage, but it didn’t matter. In one show Tevye was white, Golde was black, Tzeitel was white, Motel the tailor was black, the Russian captain was black, and all the rest of the cast was just as mixed. Good show too, and the kids worked their butts off to put it on. I hope that PC teacher whow objected to the Lion King casting was laughed off stage.

**Number Six wrote:

Shortly after the cast was announced and rehearsals began, a teacher who had not seen any of the auditions attended one of the rehersals and accused the two teachers who had cast the play of racism.**

I’m curious as to the relationship of this teacher (the one making the charge of racism) to the music and drama departments. If the teacher isn’t part of either department, why is this person sticking their nose in? If he/she is; they’ll have to come up with a better reason to cry “racism.” From what Number Six has told us (which, admittedly, isn’t everything) the auditions were done on the basic of ability and talent, in this play and others.

I agree with jayjay. this seems like knee-jerk PC-ism.

It’s not racism; it’s stupidity.

I bet this is a public school.

At my school’s production of The King and I a few years back, the King was Black, as well as Anna. Also, the two young Siam lovers were White.

It as knee-jerk as the Black Jesus in Corpus Christi.

What was the race of the teachers who did the casting, and the ones who did the complaining? Just curious.

I didn’t know that lions and monkeys and birds and wild animals were of different races…sigh

What did the students say?

I agree with Max the Immortal-to cast ACCORDING TO RACE would be way racist. And for god sakes’, it’s just a high school play.

Let’s look at the original material here, people. The characters are animals!! Yet Number Six does not mention one single lion, monkey, hyena, etc., even being allowed to even audition for a part. That’s disgusting.

I can see where a human is cast in the role of Simba over a lion, if the human is clearly a better actor. But to be denied the opportunity is clearly wrong.


The teacher in question is the head of the art dapartment. She and her students were to be responsible for set decoration, which is why she was at rehersals.

I did not say that auditions were done on the basis of ability, merely that the directors claimed that. I don’t know either of them well enough to make judgements about their character, but the evidence they present in their defense seems compelling.

This point has been made. Her reply is that

  1. This is a play, and in the Broadway play and road show, the cast is always predominantly black.
  2. Disney should have cast black actors to voice Simba, just as they cast a Native American to voice Pocahontas and an Asian to voice Mulan.

The shame of it is that the woman is (to my untrained eye) a fantastic artist and art teacher. The sets that she and her students have designed in the past have on occasion literally gotten a gasp from the audience upon first being seen. The shop teacher is finishing the sets.

To her credit, she encouraged her art students to make up their own minds and keep working on the sets if they disagreed with her. Most of them quit along with her, but the sense I get from them is that it is more out of loyalty to a favorite teacher than it is that they agree with her.

The accusing teacher is white. The music teacher is Jewish, and the drama teacher Hispanic/Asian.

The boy cast as Rifiki resigned his role, only to be replaced by his understudy, who was also black.

But mostly the students think the accusing teacher is a little weird, and pay little attention to her.

Number Six, I’ve read your last two posts, and I get the impression from them that the teacher crying racism did this publicly, rather than going to the teachers who casted the roles.

Is that the case? Because, if true, that is unforgiveable.


She first went to the two teachers. When they denied the charge of racism, she went to the principal, who happens to be black, and who sided with the directors of the play. She tried to file a formal complaint, but the complaint was not accepted because she has no standing to file such a complaint, not being the victim of the alleged racism. A copy of the complaint has been circulating ever since, which is my source for her side of the debate. For the directors’ side, I just asked them.

To make a long story short, no it hasn’t been made public, but everyone knows about it anyway.

Oh but better yet, it sounds as though the teacher who objected took it to her STUDENTS??? What the hell? So, this is being a professional? She doesn’t bring it to the teachers who were directly involved in the casting? Or, perhaps request a meeting with the Principal and then also those casting/teachers? This Art Teacher chose to do the single most unprofessional thing she could have done. She involved students in a disagreement where they HAVE NO PLACE being involved.

In my home we call that playing Mommy/Daddy. If you don’t get satisfaction from one, you go plead the case to the other hoping for a more favorable ruling. This nitwit dipwad Art Teacher ( who is no doubt Tenured-don’t GET ME STARTED!!!) took it to her kids because she didn’t get the satisfaction she wanted with the adults responsible.

That’s out there beyond reprehensible, and into the domain of formal written complaints to the Board of Ed, Personnel Director and Superintendant. Tenured or not, she should pay. NO WAY should her students have been dragged into her little ego battle.

As for the P.C.'ness of it? My wife is a music teacher in an elementary school in a town in NY State that is totally mixed race in population. She doesn’t give a rat’s patootie over what race a kid is, if they can make the music, they get the part, period. She had a parent STORM into her Principal’s office a few years ago, and demand a meeting with my wife. Why? Because my white wife didn’t give her black daughter a solo in the Holiday Concert. So, wife trooped on down after school. Listened as the parent raved, and called her ( amongst other things, a black-hater. God…people still talk this way??? ). Wife’s Principal at the time, a black woman, sat passively and waited it out. When the parent had exhausted her hatred, wife’s boss looked at her with a small smile and asked if she had anything she wished to say? Wife said, sure. She took out photographs of our children from her pocketbook, and laid them on the table. She said, " Now, tell me again how racist I am please? I’m so racist that I’ve got two kids who are NOT WHITE". ( They’re Korean-born ).

The mother got up and walked out without saying another word. And, that was the end of that. Meanwhile, her Principal was apparently furious that Wife even had to ENDURE such vitriol.

This Art teacher has crossed SO many lines in one fell swoop and done such harm, that it’s almost beyond belief. I feel badly for HER students who have misplaced faith and trust and respect in a hateful small minded adult. The VERY WORST kind of role model.

You want to debate that kind of thing? You do it with other adults, behind closed doors. Or, at least at a School Board meeting filled with other parents. It’s an atrocity, and I feel awful for the teachers who are being attacked.


Hey sorry there, Number Six, I took so damned long to write that post, that YOUR post that just landed wasn’t something I’d read as I wrote that rant. You did answer some of what I asked, I just didn’t see it. Sorry about that :smiley:


As I understand it, the only students she has directly addressed concerning this issue are those who were working with her on the set design. When her complaints were dismissed, she resigned as set design sponsor in protest, explaining to her students the reason for her resignation.

I can’t be sure that this is exactly what happened, because I have no direct evidence, but the sense I get is that this is pretty close to what happened.

It is interesting, though, that the two accused teachers seem to be more upset about losing their set designer than about the accusation itself.

Because they are professionals, while the accuser is a talented twit.

Yul Brynner was half Mongolian, half Romanian Gypsy. That makes him mostly Asian, I guess, but still a long way from Thai.