Canadian Theater Sparks Backlash After Announcing Performances for ‘Black-Identifying Audiences’

Canadian Theater Sparks Backlash After Announcing Performances for ‘Black-Identifying Audiences’
The National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Canada, in May 2021. (Google Maps/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)
Katabella Roberts

A government-funded Canadian theater organization has come under fire after announcing that it will be holding an event for only “black-identifying audiences.”

The National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa announced the “Black Out Night” event on its official website on Jan. 16.

According to the theater, the “award-winning presentation of Aleshea Harris’s Is God Is will run from Feb. 9–18 at its 897-seat Babs Asper Theatre“ and is one of the ”milestones in a series of offerings over Black History Month.”
The show features depictions of violence, death, and murder, and references to domestic violence, familial and generational abuse, and suicide, among other issues, according to the theatre’s official website.

The production will be the first of two “Black Out” nights that will be held at the theater this year, according to the website.

However, the move has sparked backlash online, including from columnist Brian Lilley, who wrote in the Toronto Sun on Jan. 26 that the government-funded theater should be “presenting plays that reflect the diversity of Canada.”
“What is bothersome is the apparent segregationist appeal,” he wrote. “Rather than encouraging black theatergoers, in what is a mostly white but slowly diversifying national capital, to attend, the NAC makes it sound like this event is only for black patrons.”

Event Sparks Race Row

Elsewhere, the Ontario chapter of the Foundation Against Racism and Intolerance said in a statement: “We strenuously object to the taxpayer-funded National Arts Centre reinvigorating segregation in theater through the inauguration of ‘Black Out’ performances.

“We can on the National Arts Centre honor the legacy of Viola Desmond by making it clear that all human beings are welcome in the theater at every performance.”

Desmond, a Canadian civil and women’s rights activist, challenged racial segregation at a cinema in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in 1946 by refusing to leave the whites-only section of the theater.

Others showed support for the “Black Out” night event though, including journalist Kevin Bourne, who wrote in the Canadian magazine Shifter that the event is about “representation and providing well-needed infrastructure for black creators.”

“While the wording surrounding the NAC’s event could’ve been better, the underlying themes are representation and community, and representation matters,” Bourne penned.

“Any attempt at carving out a dedicated space for racialized communities is often labeled by some as ‘racist’ and counterproductive to this Utopian kumbaya idea of all people getting along (despite the fact many individuals still don’t like black people; even among people of color),” Bourne said.

The NAC, which describes itself as “Canada’s bilingual, multidisciplinary home for the performing arts,” said it was inspired to host the two “Black Out” events after Broadway held a similar event in 2019 for Jeremy O’Harris’s Slave Play.

‘No Racially Segregated Shows at NAC’

“A Black Out is an open invitation to black audiences to come and experience performances with their community,” the website states. “The evenings will provide a dedicated space for black theatergoers to witness a show that reflects the vivid kaleidoscope that is the black experience.”

It adds that “creating evenings dedicated to black theatergoers will allow for conversation and participation to be felt throughout the theater and open the doors for black-identifying audiences to experience the energy of the NAC with a shared sense of belonging and passion.”

However, in a statement to Jon Kay, the editor of the online magazine Quillette, a communications official at NAC said the center will not be race-checking attendees.
The statement, which Kay shared on Twitter, says that there are “no racially segregated shows at NAC”—and that “of the nine performances of Is God Is, we have dedicated one performance—Friday, February 17—to those who self-identify as black and their guests.”

“No one will be turned away at the door; there will be no checkpoints for Black Out Night ticket holders and no questions will be asked about anyone’s identity, race, or gender,” the center said.

Canadian law states that discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, and more are illegal.

The Epoch Times has contacted the National Arts Centre for comment.

Katabella Roberts is a news writer for The Epoch Times, focusing primarily on the United States, world, and business news.
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