A scene from the lobby of a 2015 N*W*C* performance at CSULB's Richard & Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center. (File photo.)
LONG BEACH, Calif., September 28, 2016—As issues of race and justice take on particular urgency in the national conversation, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), and the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund (DLDF) are calling on California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) to reverse its censorship of a play that seeks to shed light on these important topics.
Late last month, CSULB cancelled a September 29 performance of the play N*GGER WETB*CK CH*NK (N*W*C*) due to apparent opposition to its deliberately provocative content. The satirical play is performed by Asian-American, Hispanic-American, and African-American actors who share personal narratives about how the construct of race shapes personal identity while also mocking stereotypes and racial slurs that perpetuate social injustice.
Last week, FIRE, NCAC, and DLDF wrote to CSULB, urging the university to protect artistic expression and allow N*W*C* to be performed so that the CSULB community is not denied the opportunities for engagement the play provides.
“Critical engagement with uncomfortable ideas lies at the core of a university’s intellectual mission,” said FIRE Vice President of Programs Peter Bonilla. “CSULB’s censorship of N*W*C* has denied community members the opportunity to grapple with those ideas themselves. CSULB needs to reverse course. Fidelity to First Amendment principles demands no less.”
“As tension around racism builds in our country, controversy around art and performance addressing the issue is to be expected,” said NCAC Director of Programs Svetlana Mintcheva. “But we need this controversy, because we urgently need an honest conversation about structures of racism. Cancelling a play that confronts racism head on stifles this much-needed conversation and benefits no one.”
The play’s cancellation resulted in the resignation of Michele Roberge, former executive director of the Richard & Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center, where the play was slated to be performed. Roberge booked the play after a successful performance on CSULB’s campus last year. N*W*C* has been performed at dozens of colleges and universities across the country since it was first staged in 2004.
“This show will not be silenced, of course,” said Rafael Agustin, a writer and performer for N*W*C*. “The university is still contractually obligated to compensate us and we plan to use their money to speak loudly. We are offering grants of $1000 each to the next six contracted presenters and have hired Michele Roberge to personally book the engagements. Each venue will hold a block of free seats for any person with a valid ID from Long Beach State.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.
The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), founded in 1974, is an alliance of over 50 national nonprofit organizations, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups dedicated to promoting the right to free speech.
The Dramatists Legal Defense Fund (DLDF), formed as a nonprofit arm of the Dramatists Guild of America, advocates on behalf of dramatists, theaters, audiences, and all those in the culture at large who are confronting censorship on stages across America.