Arts News!

Seyi Omooba and the Color Purple – The Verdict

On February 4th 2021 we published an article detailing our thoughts on the Tribunal of Seyi Omooba vs. Curve Theatre Leicester and her former agents Global Artists who claimed unfair dismissal, discrimination and harassment on the grounds of her religious beliefs. 

Seyi Omooba and Curve’s The Color Purple

Omooba was originally cast to play the lead role of “Celie” in the musical adaptation of The Color Purple based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer prize-winning 1982 novel of the same name. Telling the story of Celie, a poor, young, sexually abused African-American woman in the deep south of the United States in the 1930s. Celie discovers love and a close, physical relationship with a female singer, named Shug Avery.

Following a transparent audition and casting process, Omooba was given the lead role. Prior to rehearsals commencing actor Aaron Lee Lambert retweeted a Facebook post from 2014 that revealed Omooba’s homophobic and bigoted view on homosexuality. It called into question the hypocrisy of her playing an openly gay role on stage with such homophobic beliefs.

The Original Facebook post later retweeted.

Following a massive public backlash, Omooba refused to take back her comments and stood by them. The Curve was left with no choice and informed Omooba she could either resign from the production or be dismissed. She choose the later, then with the backing of Christian Concern a bigoted “Christian charity” co founded by her father, Pastor Ade Omooba launched legal action. Seeking £128,000 in damages, lost earnings, potential lost earnings and emotional distress. Interestingly in the final day of the hearing Omooba’s team reduced the total claim to £71,000

Following a week long sitting the Panel at the Central London Employment Tribunal have rejected all of Omooba’s claims in full. In a written judgement, it concluded it was “the effect of the adverse publicity from [the 2014 post’s] retweet, without modification or explanation, on the cohesion of the cast, the audience’s reception, the reputation of the producers and “the good standing and commercial success” of the production, that were the reasons why she was dismissed.”

Taking  the harassment claim into account, it said: “In the view of the tribunal Mr Stafford [Chris Stafford, chief executive of Leicester Theatre Trust] did not have the purpose of violating the claimant’s dignity or creating an intimidating or humiliating environment for her. His purpose was to save the production.”

Miss Omooba had claimed the character’s sexuality was ambiguous and she would have refused the role if she had considered her gay

But this was further rejected by the tribunal, with the panel commenting: “She had taken part in a similar production, she had the script, and knowing that a lesbian relationship was at least one interpretation, she should have considered much earlier whether a red line was to be crossed.”

The panel also went on to reject Ms Omooba’s demands for compensation for loss of earnings, future losses and reputational damage as a result of her agency contract being terminated.

“There is no financial loss because she would not have played the part,” the panel said.”There is no loss of opportunity to enhance her reputation by performing, because she would not have played the part.”If there is damage to her reputation, it was not caused by being dropped from the production but by an unconnected person’s tweeting… of her Facebook post and the outcry resulting from that.”

Christopher Milsom QC, representing Global Artists, described Omooba as “the author of her own misfortune.” The tribunal’s judgment said that: “there is no breach of contract because the claimant was in prior repudiatory breach…the contract was empty because the claimant would not have played the part, and her conduct, pulling out at a late stage, had she not been dropped when she was, would have wrecked the production.”

Andrea Williams, Christian Concerns chief executive, said: “We’re disappointed by the judgement and Seyi is considering her options for appeal.” Even still with her career in ruins she is considering pursuing further action.

The Curve’s Chief executive Chris Stafford and Artistic director Nikolai foster released a joint statement saying “we now look forward to drawing a line under this painful chapter and focusing our energies on how we rebuild our theatre after the pandemic” going on to say “we do not condone any negativity Seyi Omooba has been subjected to and we respectfully ask anyone in support of this ruling to be kind and respectful in acknowledging this victory for Curve and Celie”.

Final Thoughts:

The Curve quite simply has to be commended; they took on the challenge of not only defending themselves but challenging homophobia in what is the most diverse industry on earth. For too long, religious beliefs and convictions have been used as justification for espousing hate.

This wasn’t about free speech; Omooba believes her beliefs outweighed that of those she hurt with her comments. She is fully entitled to her thoughts and opinions and to share them in the public forum. There is however consequences to those actions and she simply didn’t want to face up to them.

Seyi Omooba is an incredibly talented and gifted musical performer and the Curve team are correct it is a time to be Kind and respectful and there is much to be learned for everyone involved in this case.

For now a bench mark has been set, Theatre remains the last truly uncensored and creative space where being who and what you are irrespective of colour, class, religion, sexuality or gender is no barrier. However maybe being honest in the characters we are willing to play and comparing that character to our personal beliefs is the core of the issue. Had Omooba done that in the first place this entire situation may never have happened.

Brett Herriot

Editor.

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