By Scottish Editor, Donald C Stewart
It was last year that I was compelled to write about the case of Seyi Omooba. Seyi was the actress sacked or let go, depending upon your point of view, as she had expressed feelings on homosexuality that many, I among them, found incompatible with playing the central role of Celie in Color Purple for a consortium lead by Birmingham Rep.
My interest was vicarious because my son had worked with Seyi in a production called “Junkyard” that was a homage to Jack Thorne’s father in Bristol. Just before the news broke of Seyi’s removal from the production, Ciaran had met her in London. Then, as throughout the production they shared, there was no indication of Seyi’s view of homosexuality. Ciaran is openly gay – not that anyone else is “openly straight” but he isn’t confined by a closet, and I think he was as shocked at her views as the events that unfolded.
There is little doubt that Seyi’s views are the result of her Christian upbringing and her faith. I felt then, and still do, that if these were very strongly held views, she should have expressed them prior to taking the job to allow the consortium the option of deciding against her taking on a role which is iconic in the LGBT community.
Seyi is a young woman, a fledgling actress who has lost a job, her agent and may well be struggling in having a career in the arts. This month she was due to appear in an employment tribunal to challenge her treatment. She has already had one case, relating to her removal from Color Purple, settled. Given that she may now, be a toxic brand for any theatrical employer, this case may have more significance for her future than many others that shall be salted to appear alongside her case.
Given the significance of the case I was struck by these words, “I feel the most heartfelt compassion for actress Oluwaseyi Omooba.”
They were written, not by the Christian fellowship that was supporting her case but by the very woman who created the character she was due to play. It is the words of the author, Alice Walker.
She wrote them in an open letter, published last November, which, to an extent addressed the case of her most famous character being offered as a part to the most infamous actor of that time.
A carefully crafted letter, it manages to address the issue but say very little which anyone could take into a court room. It does however demonstrate a more sympathetic approach, dare I even say, Christian approach to the actress’s views than the people who “outed” her in the first place.
Whilst I abhor the views she holds and find her defence of them archaic at best, I am glad she has kept to them. It would have been very easy to simply denounce her past and renounce her faith. She chose not to.
There is merit in that. There could even be admiration that the young should hold onto what they believe to be sacred.
The world has lauded youth in the recent past with Greta Thunberg getting an opportunity to berate and lecture world leaders with her agenda whilst we make them positive front-page news. Is this because her views accord more with our own liberal agenda? Is there an anti-democratic purge ongoing that derides and decries “alternate” points of view in the way that radicals and liberals were similarly unfairly treated by conservatives in the past? Are we in danger of, by being intolerant, merely repainting intolerance and calling it differently, only because now it is our own intolerance?
Certainly, for this young girl, I am as fascinated over what happens next as what happened then. I am also intrigued as to how we shall view and report it. I finish with the last sentiment of Walker’s letter not just because I could never improve upon her words, but also because the lesson in her writing here is the greatest lesson to be learned.
“Playing the role of “Celie” while not believing in her right to be loved, or to express her love in any way she chooses, would be a betrayal of women’s right to be free. As an elder, I urge all of us to think carefully about what I am saying, even as you, Oluwaseyi Omooba, sue the theatre company for voiding your contract. This is just an episode in your life; your life, your work, and your growth, will continue, in the real world. A world we must make safe for women and children, female and male. And the greatest freedom of all is the freedom to be your authentic self.
And with love to all of us”