UW Musical Depicts White Actors Wearing Native American Headdresses

“The show especially demeans Native American cultures with outdated stereotypes of Native American appropriation by non-native actors wearing headdresses/warbonnets.”



It seems “The Fantasticks” musical was not so fantastic.

Wyoming high school students walked out of a traveling performance held at the University of Wyoming, accusing the show of being racist and vulgar.

The protest took place on Thursday during the intermission of “The Fantasticks,” staged by students participating in a weeklong Native American Summer Institute program that provides low-income students an introduction to college.

The musical is set in 1960s and features two manipulative fathers who attempt to trick their children into falling in love by faking a feud. The fathers then hire actors to “fake kidnap” the girl so the guy could “rescue” her and end the quarrel between the families. The children, however, find out about the plot and reject their relationship. After living apart, they eventually come back together and fall in love.

But it appears the play itself was rife with racist stereotypes and unapologetic use of the word “rape” in the dialogue.

“The show especially demeans Native American cultures with outdated stereotypes of Native American appropriation by non-native actors wearing headdresses/warbonnets,” the United Multicultural Council said in a statement. “It also portrays Native American and Latino/Hispanic characters as the villains or antagonists of the show.”

The ensuing walkout prompted criticism of the play from UW’s United Multicultural Council. The Upward Bound group, another summer camp, which planned to attend Saturday’s performance by the Department of Theater and Dance, also canceled its visit after the outrage.

UW President Laurie Nichols and her husband, Tim, who was instrumental in setting up the Native American Summer Institute, also attended the show. He said the racist nature of the show hurt the progress the institute has made toward welcoming Native-American students from the Wind River Indian Reservation and other places in Wyoming.

“It's a 1960s play, but it was, in my view, inappropriate,” he said. “We shared our concerns with the theater department and we shared our concerns with the students and, you know, we're OK.”

The university has prepared an insert for future performances to explain the context of the scenes.

“With historical productions, we see a 'point in time,' which is different from the one in which we live,” the insert read. “We see portrayals of characters that are painful to watch as 21st century audiences. The challenge then, in producing historical works, is to help audiences understand the context and/or story for the play without taking undue or illegal liberties with the script.”




Banner/Thumbnail Credit: Wikimedia Commons 

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