Theater is a ‘white invention’: Distinguished UK actor slammed
Dame Janet Suzman, known for her Shakespearean roles, was responding to the views of Meera Syal, a British-Asian comedian, who last week urged theater companies to do more to involve the UK’s Asian community.
“Theater is a white invention, a European invention, and white people go to it,” Suzman claimed. “It’s in their DNA. It starts with Shakespeare.”
Suzman also complained that people from ethnic minority backgrounds simply don’t go to the theatre because it isn’t part of their culture.
“I’ve just done a South African play. My co-star is a young black man from the slums of Cape Town. Totally brilliant actor! I saw one black face in the room, at the Print Room [London theater],” she said.
“And they don’t bloody come. They’re not interested. It’s not in their culture, that’s why. Just as their stuff is not in white culture,” she added.
The statements come as the British government warns arts organizations they could lose funding if they fail to improve diversity in their institutions.
Under new plans unveiled by the UK Art Council, organizations will have to demonstrate how they have implemented plans to be more inclusive of ethnic minority groups, which are generally poorly represented in the arts and media.
Responding to Dame Suzman’s comments, Syal, one of Britain’s most prominent actors, said she had “never heard any single race or culture claim theater” as their exclusive invention before.
“The sharing of stories between performers and audience stretches across every single civilization beginning with the oral tradition of re-enacting folk tales or religious myths, graduating into more formalized forms of structured staging,” she said.
She also said there was a “more profound” discussion to be had regarding audiences.
Other figures in the arts also hit out at Suzman’s comments, saying theaters had to find better ways to be more inclusive of ethnic minority groups.
“She’s ill-informed about the very old traditions of African and Indian cultures, which go back thousands of years. It’s sad that she thinks that,” Ben Okri, Booker Prize winning novelist and former National Theatre board member, told the Guardian.
Okri also told the newspaper that during his tenure at the National Theatre, the organization “tore its hair out” figuring out how to attract more diverse audiences.