Washington College in Maryland has decided to cancel an upcoming performance of Larry Shue’s The Foreigner — because the play’s villains are members of the Ku Klux Klan, and that might “upset” people.
As Reason’s Robby Soave notes, The Foreigner is a decidedly “anti-racist, anti-KKK, and pro-immigrant” production — that is, it promotes the exact kinds of values that the social-justice crowd claims to champion. Still, according to an article in The College Fix, the very fact that it would feature actors dressed up in KKK robes was still enough to prompt the school to cancel the entire production, and to do so “approximately one hour before the play’s final dress rehearsal,” according to the college’s student newspaper, The Elm.
The Fix reports that the administration became concerned that the play “could potentially upset some members of the campus community” after the school’s interim theater chair, Laura Eckelmen, notified them about it two days before the final dress rehearsal. The choice to ultimately cancel the production was also supported by the college dean.
A spokesperson for the administration told the news source that it made the decision in an attempt to “balance the right of free speech with our values of inclusion and compassion.”
The play’s student director, Megan Stagg, was reportedly not consulted during the cancelation process. She had been working on the production for nearly two years.
Stagg also told The Elm that multiple students who were involved in the production had received negative comments about their participation, with one cast member telling the news source that he or she had “received a couple messages online calling me a racist for being a part of the show.”
“This show is about giving a voice to the voiceless and we have been undermined and received hate for it through the cancellation,” said Will Reid, a cast member who was planning to host a panel discussion after the show exploring the play’s themes.
Still, the administration is standing by its decision:
“The campus was not prepared for the content of the show, and the decision was made to be respectful of our student populations,” a spokesperson said.
Honestly? Maybe I’m crazy, but I think that the most “respectful” thing to do on behalf of the people who have been negatively impacted by our country’s history of racism would be to encourage art that acknowledges and condemns it.
See, on one level, this is yet another example of colleges and college students being too sensitive. Stories — whether they are books, plays, or movies — are always going to have villains, and those villains (by definition) are not going to be good people.
On a deeper level, though, it’s about much more than that. This is about more than just some progressives who have taken things too far with their progressive-ness — rather, it’s actually an example of how an attempt at being “progressive” could wind up serving the opposite end.
Earlier this year, I wrote a column about how a school district in California was considering removing a mural showing some of the ugly parts of George Washington’s legacy — such as depictions of slaves performing manual labor — over concerns that it “traumatizes students and community members.” (Note: The district ultimately decided to cover, but not destroy, the mural.)
At the time, I found myself confused. Think about it: Aren’t social-justice warriors and progressives the ones always accusing other people of “whitewashing” history? Aren’t they the ones who say we need to be real about some of the uglier things that, for example, our country’s founders have done, rather than simply ignoring their transgressions while lauding their accomplishments? After all, according to a historian’s analysis of the mural in the Wall Street Journal, the intent of the mural’s artist was to criticize these aspects of Washington’s past, not to glorify or normalize them. Similarly, The Foreigner is a play intended to demonize the KKK — a real-life hate group that has, unfortunately, caused real-life horror for many people. Is it really the right move to shield people from this reality, rather than to confront it head-on? Does it really make sense to smear people as “racist” for their intent to perform a work that acknowledges and criticizes racism?
I keep hearing it both ways from people on the left: that we cannot whitewash the ugly parts of history, and that the ugly parts of history are too “triggering” to expose. Again, I have to ask: Which one is it?
It would seem, at least to me, that — since ignoring reality doesn’t do anything to make it less real — the best thing to do would be to confront tough issues directly, in order to give us the best chance of solving them.