Victoria

Melbourne school accused of 'whitewashing' black history

A Melbourne student has accused her school of "whitewashing" black history over a decision to adapt a popular musical about racial discrimination, despite having a mostly white cast.

 A Year 11 student  launched a petition calling on Brunswick Secondary College to dump its production of US musical Hairspray, which has been slated for the school's annual performance later this year.

Set in Baltimore at the height of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, Hairspray follows the story of an overweight teenage girl who chases her dream of dancing on a TV show and goes on to rally against racial segregation.

The student, who did not want to be identified,  slammed her school over the controversial choice, saying Hairspray should "never have been an option" because of a lack of cultural diversity in the music department.

"If the musical goes on, they would have to change aspects to fit in with their cast, which is marginalising black history and culture, or they will have white people portray coloured people, and that is not okay," the petition said.

"It is not okay for our school to whitewash such an important time in black history and black culture just because the songs are fun and catchy."  

Advertisement

She also claims there has been "a lack of cultural diversity and colored [sic] people" in the school's annual musicals in years gone by. 

"I am not blaming the school for the lack of diversity, I just believe that Hairspray should never have been an option. Our history is not for you to change and amend, it is our culture and our history and ours alone."  

But Brunswick Secondary College defended its decision to perform the musical, saying it was a proudly multicultural school that regularly celebrated different cultures.

Acting principal Heather Secomb said the decision to do Hairspray was made over the school holidays when the rights to perform its preferred production were not available.

She said Hairspray had been nominated by students last year and that it covered a range of issues including racial discrimination and body image.

"We always encourage debate at Brunswick SC and this is a great example of our students debating an issue that is important to them," Ms Secomb said. "I have met twice with the students who posted the petition online to listen to their views and hear their concerns about the production and we will discuss their concerns at school council next week."

As of Tuesday afternoon more than 300 people had signed the petition calling on the school to scrap the musical. Most comments posted online supported the view that Hairspray was an inappropriate choice. 

"It is ridiculous that Brunswick Secondary would do a musical about POC [People of colour] without POC! So inappropriate and disrespectful," wrote Bessi Upchurch.

Aurelia Saraghi said it would be the "stupidest production ever" and would drag down the school's performing arts reputation.

"It's disgusting that anyone thinks it is ok to whitewash something that represents such an awful and historical time," wrote Alana Bernardo. "Enough of white supremacy."

Bella de Wit said: "Black history and culture should be shared by blacks that understand it, not whites that appropriate it."

Liam Jenkins said Hairspray should never have been an option, but that he did not believe the school was being racist. "I'm signing this with hope that they understand their insensitivity and opt for a different musical," he said. 

Not everyone agreed that the musical was a poor choice. Shaye Cavanagh wrote: "Hairspray isn't only about white people, if you think it is then you're an idiot."

Advertisement