The Arts in Court!
Even during the ongoing lockdown and complete closure of our theatres, the theatre industry is still in the news for many reasons. Alongside the battle to survive for the entire industry there is the ongoing story of Actress Seyi Omooba who is suing The Curve Theatre Leicester and her former agents, Michael Garret Associates Ltd (Global Artists) for breach of contract and religious discrimination for a total of £128,000.
Omooba was cast in the lead role of Celie for the 2019 Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome co production of the Musical “The Color Purple” based on Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning novel famously adapted for the Cinema by Steven Spielberg.
Omooba was successfully cast in the role by the producers following a transparent audition process which would begin rehearsals in late April 2019 with scheduled performances in May and June of that year.
On the 15th March 2019, Aaron Lee Lambert of the “Hamilton” company tweeted a screen shot of Omooba’s tweet from 2014 that laid bare her bigoted homophobic views, which she justifies by her religious Beliefs.
From the publication of that Tweet came the justified public back lash based around one simple question! “How can an openly homophobic actor truly portray an openly gay Character and not see the hypocrisy of that choice?”
That question amongst others were what the producers and production team faced, they gave Omooba the chance to respond and explain, as with all humanity we grow and learn and her thoughts and opinions may well have changed over the 5 year gap of the original tweet and its re-tweet.
Omooba stood by her original tweet and her homophobic belief’s which she again justified by her religious scruples. These beliefs were not shared by the Curve, and she was given the chance to resign from the production. She chose against that and therefore was removed by contract termination. She was also subsequently terminated by her Agents.
Clearly stung by this decision and the ongoing public backlash Omooba backed by Christian Concern (which is governed by her Father Ade Omooba who supports Gay Conversion therapy and unbelievably was awarded the MBE in the Queens Honours) have launched legal proceedings which have led to the ongoing Tribunal currently taking place in London.
Everyone has the inalienable right to their religious beliefs irrespective of what those are even if to others there wrong or against their own personal beliefs. There are many performers in the arts with strong faith; they however don’t use that to espouse homophobic rhetoric.
Many interesting issues have come out of the hearing to date, and here are our thoughts on them and the case thus far:
- Omooba is justifying her homophobia by way of “this is what the bibles tells me” that is exactly the downfall of her argument. The bible is interpretive, we all interpret it differently. If the bible tells her that homosexuality is wrong (even if legal) she is entitled to that belief. What she isn’t entitled to is to hurt others with that belief which she has done on an epic scale.
- The Tribunal has revealed that Omooba is claiming £4309 as part of the overall financial tally as this was the figure she would have been paid for the role. Omooba has been offered that sum by the Curve from the moment her contract was terminated. She made the choice not to Invoice the theatre to claim the payment. The offer of that payment remains open to this day. Therefore Seyi why didn’t you invoice for the payment?
- Omooba has also said in court she hadn’t read the script of the musical and thus didn’t know Celie was a lesbian character. This is interesting; in 2017 Omooba performed the show in a “Concert” production at the Cadogan Hall, London in the role of Nettie. She clearly did this without reading the script or understanding the show entirely.
- Omooba went on to say, if she had known that Celie was a gay character or it was brought to light during rehearsals that was the creative direction for the character she would have withdrawn from the production. Leaving both the cast and production team high and dry. She defends that by simply saying “that’s why theatre uses “covers” and “alternate” performers. Defence council then said to her in court, this is a most unprofessional method of working. We fully agree with the defence, how many performers would accept a role without reading the script, then finding out it doesn’t match your religious beliefs simply walk away even if that leaves just days before the opening curtain?
- Alice Walker the author of the source book confirmed in court papers that “Celie” is based on her mother who was open in her sexual attraction to women confirming the character of “Celie” from her creation was homosexual. Therefore it’s somewhat mystifying that Omooba maintains her belief that “Celie” is not a lesbian character.
- Two expert reports submitted by Omooba by respected director and arts Critic Lloyd Evans and Theologist Dr Martin Parsons were disallowed but can be read in full on the Christian Concern website. We have examined both documents especially Lloyd Evans which is a long winded defence document that delves into the theory of classical Greek drama’s by way of defending Omooba’s homophobia and thus justifying her suitability to play “Celie”. Its therefore clear Omooba maintains her homophobic views and her ability to play any character irrespective of the hypocrisy that might engender.
- Hypocrisy is the very heart of the issue, the arts especially the theatre has a lifelong and unbreakable bond with the LGBTQI+ community they are often the life blood of one another. This situation is not an attack on a woman of colour, or indeed her incredible talent as an actor and vocalist. Omooba is blinded by religious belief that she simply cannot see she is the walking embodiment of a selfish hypocrite. She is fully allowed to express her belief that homosexuality is wrong, irrespective of how hurtful that is to not only her fellow cast members, the arts industry and indeed the non homophobic world. The fact she can absorb that hurt and still justify she can perform a role of a character she truly and utterly believes is wrong and a sin is sheer hypocrisy.
- No Matter how good her portrayal of Celie would have been, it would have been a lie to the audience who would have either boycotted the production or worse still turned up to boo her from the stage. The law does protect the right to free speech and Omooba is fully entitled to share her views but she must be willing to accept the consequences of that decision. Something this tribunal shows she isn’t willing to do.
- Oomba has a red line in her casting choices, she said she would not play a homosexual character due to her religious beliefs. She never informed the Curve or to a certain degree her agents of that decision. She still however accepted the role of Celie which defies logic.
The tribunal is ongoing until 11th of February, and we at Scotsgay arts hope the court find in favour of the Curve Leicester and Omooba’s former agents. The only person to blame for this situation is Seyi Omooba herself, No one is denying her religious freedoms but she is happy to deny the freedom of human sexuality based on that religious belief, is it really ok for her to say it’s wrong to be homosexual yet whilst being wrong can happily play one of the great LGBTQI+ characters?. Seyi, once your homophobic truths came to light you were then no longer a suitable actor to portray the role of Celie, it really is that simple.
Theatre is a family we all stand by one another when one person hurts we all hurt together, Omooba’s words in that original tweet cut deep but what cuts deeper still is her inability to accept her actions have consequences and these now include costing her the career she so cherished.
In the video posted to youtube by Christian Concern, Omooba says just wants those who are Christian to be able to perform in theatre. Seyi yes they can perform in Theatre but when you spread homophobic hate and defend it by Christianity that isn’t Christian and isn’t in the heart of what Theatre making is all about.
Have a look at the video from Christian Concern but do remember this is purely one side of the argument; we shall update this article once the verdict comes in. For now however what do you think?