Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Equity vows to fight ‘dehumanising’ cultural appropriation

Protesters outside the Print Room, London, at the opening night of Howard Barker's In the Depths of Dead Love in 2017. They were objecting to the cast being exclusively white, when the play is set in ancient China. Photo: Georgia Snow
by -

Equity is to develop a policy to tackle “dehumanising” cultural appropriation within the industry.

The move follows recent debate on the issue within the sector and a backlash in response to instances of white actors being given ethnic roles, including the recent casting of Sierra Boggess as Maria in West Side story.

Sierra Boggess withdraws from West Side Story concert following casting row

Speaking at Equity’s Annual Representative Conference, Red Sarah, of the Variety, Circus and Entertainers Committee, said: “Cultural appropriation is when somebody takes something from another less dominant or oppressed culture and uses it without reference, respect or understanding of the culture’s history or traditions.

“The more marginalised group doesn’t get a say while their heritage is deployed by someone in a position of greater privilege for fun or fashion or, in the worst instances, for profit, drawing upon stereotypes to do so.”

Sarah said cultural appropriation happens on a “daily basis” and gave examples of dancers in Native American headdresses, burlesque performers wearing Geisha costumes and white women performing Josephine Baker’s banana dance.

She added: “We need a policy that helps those at risk of perpetrating and those at risk of being stolen from.”

Daniel York, of the Minority Ethnic Members Committee, added: “When you reduce real people to fancy dress, to comedy props, you are essentially dehumanising them.”

Equity members voted to pass a motion to initiate discussion within the union on cultural appropriation in variety, circus and entertainment and to develop an appropriate policy on the issue.

For more coverage of the Equity Annual Representative Conference 2018, click here

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.