‘In the Heights’ Canceled in Australia Over Whitewashing Concerns

‘In the Heights’ Canceled in Australia Over Whitewashing Concerns


He added that he chose to produce the musical in part because it “tells an important story which, as a proud multicultural society, many Australians can also identify with.”

But casting proved to be a challenge. Brisbane is the third-largest city in Australia, with a population of 2.27 million, but 78 percent of Greater Brisbane’s population speak only English at home and just 0.7 percent of the population speak Spanish.

Mr. Ward said he had expected that it would be hard to find a full Latino cast, and he noted that they were producing the show under a community licensing agreement.

“We were not bound by the specific casting conditions required of a professional production,” he said.

Mr. Ward said he and his team searched their local theater and community groups, contacted agents representing diverse actors and combed local hip-hop and salsa dance studios in search of cast members.

“While Brisbane has only a small Latinx community, and an even smaller community of Latinx musical theater performers,” Mr. Ward said, “we do have a rich and vast multicultural heritage, and this was proudly reflected in our casting of the work.”

But while one of the lead actresses, Stephie Da Silva, who was cast to play Vanessa, is Uruguayan, most of the other actors cast in top roles were not Latino and looked white. Usnavi, the character originally played by Mr. Miranda, was to be played by Jason Bentley.

The producers initially defended their casting decisions, pointing out in a statement that “50 percent of the cast identified with an ancestry other than Australian” — including Mr. Bentley, who is part Samoan.

But as the response to the show spread online and beyond, the producers decided to pull the plug.

Ms. Da Silva, the cast member who was born and raised in Uruguay, said she was disappointed to see the show canceled.

“This was a lesson for many,” she said, noting that minorities and actors involved in the show all ended up feeling hurt. She added: “It’s time to educate ourselves more when it comes to racial and cultural awareness.”

Criticism of Australia’s lack of diversity in media and the arts is increasingly common. In August, a Sydney-based women’s theater group, SheShakespeare, sparked a small firestorm when they posted their latest cast on Facebook. Again, they all appeared to be white.

“It’s really great to see so many white women get a chance,” commented Nakkiah Lui, an Australian Aboriginal writer and actress whose recent play, “Black Is the New White,” tackled some of Australia’s race issues.

But there have also been successes. When “In the Heights” debuted in Australia in 2015, produced by StageArts in Melbourne, the cast was more diverse and the show received good reviews.



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