The presence of racism in plays and musicals

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Cynthia Rossi, Staff Writer

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Have you ever been watching a musical or play and realized that the scene you’re watching is actually incredibly racist? If so, then you are not alone. Lots of old plays and musicals contain racist, bigoted scenes because of the time period they were written in. However, if making a racist comment or imitating another culture is something that is no longer tolerated today, and rightfully so, why are the scenes still being printed in scripts?

To start off, I want to preface that I do not believe that it is okay to make fun of or mock other cultures’ beliefs and practices. The purpose of this article is to simply inform readers about racism in plays and musicals as well as why the scenes are still being performed today.

At the time period that most plays and musicals were written, white supremacy dominated our nation. African-Americans and Native Americans were belittled and degraded through several different forms of American literature, including plays and musicals. While the books and television shows that were made mocking those cultures eventually died away, the musicals and plays took off.

While most people think it would be fairly easy to take out or not perform any racist scenes in musicals, the people who perform the musicals do not own the scripts. Therefore, the scripts that are given to actors and actresses have to be performed exactly as written or there is a hefty fine to pay.

The scenes serve as a snapshot of what times were like in the time period that the plays take place. In some ways it would be considered censorship or  like rewriting history to have them deleted. Instead of deleting them, let them serve as that historical snapshot and to help us realize that we have grown as a nation but to remember that we always have room to grow.

So, what can we do about this? Since legally there is no clear answer, we can always reassure ourselves of the growth our country has undergone. Yes, there are definitely still problems today, but we as a society have come so far since these plays and musicals were written. As audience members, we can vow that we will never again mock or belittle other cultures as they were almost 200 years ago. These scenes as an incentive to join the seemingly never-ending fight for equality and hold others accountable for what they say.