The Chicago Theatre community is pushing back at Hedy Weiss, a Chicago Sun-Times critic, for some racially insensitive comments made in her June 13th review of the play Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu, now playing at the Steppenwolf Theatre. A petition was quickly generated by the Chicago Theater Accountability Coalition, including playwright, Ike Holter, in response to this comment:
“To be sure, no one can argue with the fact that this city (and many others throughout the country) has a problem with the use of deadly police force against African -Americans. But, for all the many and varied causes we know so well, much of the lion’s share of the violence is perpetrated within the community itself. Nwandu’s simplistic, wholly generic characterization of a racist white cop (clearly meant to indict all white cops) is wrong-headed and self-defeating. Just look at news reports about recent shootings (on the lakefront, on the new River Walk, in Woodlawn) and you will see the look of relief when the police arrive on the scene. And the playwright’s final scenes—including a speech by the clueless white aristocrat who appears earlier in the story – and who could not be more condescending to Steppenwolf’s largely white “liberal” audience – further rob the play of its potential impact.”
The Chicago Theatre community demands
The petition demands that Hedy Weiss not be invited to future performances. It now has 3,656 signatures and counting. Steppenwolf Theatre made an official statement denouncing the viewpoints expressed by Weiss stating it “revealed a deep-seated bigotry and a painful lack of understanding of this country’s historic racism.” Despite many letters or requests over the years, she never apologizes for any of her words. Previously, Tony Kushner, the writer of the musical, Caroline or Change stated that “Hedy is incapable of understanding standards of professional ethical conduct.” Yet, she continues to be on the staff of the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper. The publication actually released an editorial (obnoxiously & condescendingly titled, “Hey, Steppenwolf: Critics gonna critique”) in support of Weiss’ work and have stated that they will pay for her theatre tickets if need be. Although many theaters have released statements in support of the opposition to her work, not all have stated they will comply with the no-comps pledge.
The Chicago Theatre community is speaking loud and clear. The demands of the petition are that Weiss be no longer granted free press passes and that racist, homophobic, or body-shaming language no longer be tolerated. Be sure to stay tuned for updates as this petition continues.
A statement issued in a press release from the organizers of this movement reads:
“To be clear, we are not calling for a ban on Ms. Weiss attending performances. We are simply requesting that she not be given a ticket for free. If she wishes to present her damaging views, we ask that she pay for the privilege.”
You can view the petition and sign HERE.
It is imperative that we bring awareness to the necessity of employing theatre critics with diverse backgrounds, with an emphasis on people of color. This type of critique oppresses the growth of the theatre community, creating riffs based on race, not only in Chicago but all over this country. Further pushing us all from actualizing one of the worlds most truly inclusive art forms. Broadway Black is here to lessen that burden, and eventually end these acts of oppression against our voices. This is why we exist, and why we must continue to do the work that highlights and critiques the theatre from an appropriate lens. Sign the petition and make it a personal mission to aide the cause in anyway you can in your own immediate community.– Andrew Shade, Broadway Black Founder