By mail and by phone, a New Jersey theatre has been getting protests -- even threats of violence - over its decision to cast a black man as Jesus in its annual Passion Play.
Please share your opinion of the situation. How should the theatre respond? What are your feelings on non-traditional casting -- i.e. casting people in plays regardless of their race?
Please e-mail your views to Playbill On-Line managing editor Robert Viagas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Messages with vulgar language will not be posted. Otherwise, answers will be posted as they come in. Here are the results so far. Playbill thanks all those who took the time to write:
From Ed Woodward:
I am the chairman of the board of deacons at a Baptist church in Hudson County. Our congregation is predominantly white, as I am. I see no problem with a black man playing the part of Jesus.
I doubt that Jesus, an orthodox Jew living in Judea circa 30 AD, was a black man in the sense that we use the term. But I am certain that he was not the blond, blue-eyed man that we see represented in most pictures. An actor with a darker skin color would be more historically accurate regardless of his race.
The individuals who are making the threats should consider the subject of the play, Jesus and his sacrifice for the world. The mark of His people is love (John 13:35). (3/5/97)
Many years ago I saw the Tom O'Horgan production of Jesus Christ Superstar. The actor playing Jesus was black. He had previously played Judas in the same production. So what?
An actor is an actor regardless of color. A part is a part. Sounds simplistic, I know but I simply no longer understand this disease called racism that seems to be infecting more and more people in this society. It makes me sad and angry and ulitmately frustrated that people can be so stupid and ugly and hateful. (3/5/97)
From Ina Burwasser:
What is this all about?? If I remember my history, Jesus was from the Gallilee. People from that part of the Mediteranean were often dark. Could it be -- horrors! -- that Jesus WAS really Black? What blasphemy! Really! An actor SHOULD be chosen solely on merit, not by the color of his skin.
These hatemongers seem to miss Jesus's message - love thy neighbor as thyself. Therefore, Jesus, himself, would be absolutely APPALLED at all this hate.
I think both the theater and the actor involved should just do as Jesus preached: "Turn the other cheek" and ignore the venom. It will soon die down from lack of energy and publicity! By the way I'm Caucasian but ashamed of others of my race who spout such viciousness and hate. (3/5/97)
From Walt, NYC:
What can i say...we live in a racist society. . .yet how sadly ironic that the man-saviour who is meant to teach love and tolerance can be a target of hate and shame if played by a black man. why the hell are these hypocrites going to see a play about Jesus anyway...there must be a klan meeting somewhere they can attend.
Walt...NYC...A WHITE GUY!!! (3/5/97)
Based upon where Jesus lived, I believe his skin was much darker than generally portrayed in modern literature. A black actor playing Jesus may be more historically accurate than a Caucasian actor. Anyway, what difference does the color of the skin make when casting an actor as Jesus? I (foolishly?) believed that theater celebrated diversity more often than other segments of our society. Occasions like this remind me that narrow-minded persons still like to flaunt their ignorance in public. Discrimination demonstrates the most un Christian behavior! Jesus himself would not approve of the threats and fear that the troublemakers espouse. If someone doesn't like the casting decision, they should simply not attend the performance. The theater should cast the best actor for the part and hopefully enjoy the increased attendance that the publicity generated. (3/5/97)