New Zealand's largest school has cancelled its school musical after it was criticised for putting on a production of historically black musical with an overwhelming white cast.
Rangitoto College, on Auckland's North Shore, was due to put on a three-night run of The Wiz, a re-telling of The Wizard of Oz based in contemporary African-American culture that originally had an all-black cast.
Principal Patrick Gale announced the news to students and parents today, saying: "We feel deeply for the cast and crew".
An earlier social media post highlighting the issue said that performing the musical was "literally cultural appropriation".
"How on earth has Rangitoto College allowed this?" the poster wrote. "How could they not understand the cultural significance this play had to the black community?"
"It's really disgusting and I'm honestly confused as to why they couldn't just pick one of the thousands of non-black musicals to do.
"If you are white, stick to white musicals please. No white girl is going to sing like Dianna Ross does in The Wiz, stick to Judy Garland.
"It's a black musical made for the black community."
Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon, speaking before the school announced their decision to cancel, defended New Zealand schools' rights to perform plays from overseas, even if they couldn't cast them with the same ethnic mix as the original shows.
"We're free to express," Foon said. "The world's changing so quickly and I think if you want to present it, you can present it. But you must make all efforts to find appropriate characters acting in the play.
"Some of those stories are really powerful and by telling those stories we can all learn," he added.
In a statement to the school community today, Gale said the school had made the decision because "our perspectives have changed" in the light of recent global developments.
"We take very seriously our responsibilities around addressing matters involving
any form of racism, particularly given the global spotlight that has enhanced how we view different aspects of the world around us, and specifically our processes, culture and values," Gale wrote.
"Our students have been practising for many months and were originally planning to perform in March, with this deferred until late June due to the lockdown.
"In the intervening time, our world and our perspectives have changed markedly and as a school, we no longer feel it is appropriate to go ahead with the production.
"We have not made this decision lightly, but sought advice and tried to balance all the different viewpoints and voices and had the interests of our students at the centre of the discussions.
"In making the decision, we have come back to our values as a school where we work very hard to ensure diversity is embraced and equality is strived for in all aspects of our school.
"Our decision will also feed into the current learning conversations being had across the school. We feel deeply for the cast and crew as they have put enormous energy and time into the production and will find ways to help them showcase and celebrate their talents in other ways."
A member of the North Shore community earlier contacted the Herald with their concerns, saying the Rangitoto College production "neglects to acknowledge the history of this musical".
"It is a black musical for black artists, a vehicle for black culture to be represented in a scene guarded and dominated by white artists," they wrote.
Concord Theatricals, the agency that controls the rights to the show, does not stipulate that productions of the show have to have any particular racial mix but only asks that "the spirit of The Wiz is maintained".
Although it does note that the show was originally produced with an all-black cast and "it is preferred that the main characters are cast with people of colour".
The cancellation comes after a children's production of the popular musical Hairspray was cancelled amid a race row and allegations of "cyberbullying, threats and harassing behaviour".
The Northern School of the Performing Arts, also based on Auckland's North Shore, had been working on presenting a performance of the show which is set in the US city of Baltimore during the segregated 1960s.
But the school faced criticism that the cast was not sufficiently ethnically diverse, and the show was cancelled.