The Binghamton University theatre department’s spring production of “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” has officially been canceled in response to student pushback.
On Feb. 7, the Instagram account @weeseeyou_binghamton made its first post, which raised concerns of “potentially inappropriate racial casting” and called for the cancellation of the production. According to the post, the play was originally a one-woman show written in response to the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which were sparked by the death of Latasha Harlins and the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers after they had been caught on camera brutally beating Rodney King.
Additionally, this post detailed a timeline of events. On Nov. 17, some students had brought these concerns to the undergraduate representatives, two students who act as liaisons between the students and faculty. On Nov. 20, an informational Q&A session was held, and students voiced their concerns regarding casting. According to the post, the entire faculty of the theatre department attended this meeting despite an arrangement made beforehand that “only the faculty responsible for directing the show be present at the meeting.”
A petition, titled “Binghamton University: Demands for Racial Justice in the Binghamton Theatre Department,” was also shared by the account that day. The petition detailed students’ reactions to this Nov. 20 meeting.
“In this meeting, students came forward with concerns about inappropriate racial casting,” the petition stated. “The department dismissed these concerns, and many students left the meeting feeling, among many things, disappointed and insulted. We believe that this department’s choice to continue the production of ‘Twilight Los Angeles, 1992’ in this manner will perpetuate outdated and harmful stereotypes, tropes and caricatures of race to the detriment of audiences and the student body.”
In response to this petition, Barbara Wolfe, chair and director of undergraduate studies for the theatre department, said a statement was shared with students detailing the reasons why the production has since been canceled.
“The online petition and social media content focusing on the production strongly voiced the concern of not being heard,” Wolfe wrote in an email. “We heard you, and we need more conversation to take place. Planning is underway for faculty, staff and students to have a facilitated meeting to ensure all voices and points of view can be represented in a safe, equal space.”
If students are interested in participating in this meeting, they should contact their student representatives. Wolfe added that a Google Form will also be made available for those who wish to participate and remain anonymous.
According to Patrick Saint Ange, a founding member of @weseeyou_binghamton and a sophomore double-majoring in English and sociology, the decision to cancel the production was ultimately left to Danyé Brown, director of the show and a visiting assistant professor of acting and directing.
“The University and the department did not cancel the show, the show came to an end primarily because the cast was unhappy with how racially insensitive the production was and how they felt their concerns were being ignored by their director,” Saint Ange wrote in an email. “Some felt uncomfortable with how [relaxed Brown] was with allowing the use of the N-slur by non-Black students and the prospect of learning potentially offensive Korean accents. After not having their concerns addressed, they took a stand and many choose to leave the production entirely.”
Saint Ange wrote that students who were “on board” for “Twilight: Los Angeles 1992” before rehearsals were vocal about their disinterest in both the “race-swap” casting and Brown’s approach to directing the production.
“[Brown] would have likely continued her plans had it not been for the brave students in the [‘Twilight: Los Angeles 1992’] cast who decided to leave the project despite the department’s strict rules against [leaving] a production,” Saint Ange wrote. “[Theatre department rules] dictate that a student who agrees to participate in a show cannot audition for another show the following semester if they choose to leave.”
Brown said she would encourage students to reach out to herself or other University resources to further discuss the matter.
“If a student has questions and/or needs clarification, they are more than welcome to schedule a one-on-one meeting with myself and the University Ombudsman,” Brown wrote in an email.
A new project is in the works, according to Wolfe, to address such concerns.
“The concerns brought to the department regarding ‘Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,’ motivated [Brown] and the production team to reimagine how a story of varying views surrounding important events can be told,” Wolfe wrote. “They are working with students to create a new project offering such a reimagination. Details on when and how this project will be shared soon.”
Wolfe said students are welcome to reach out to her for further discussion.
“In an already turbulent time, I recognize that our socially distant learning environment has contributed to the high stress, the lack of communication and increased incidence of distrust we are experiencing,” Wolfe wrote. “I think we all want to rebuild the channels of trust and collaboration. That will take time and patience, but [I] hope you’ll continue to reach out to your professors, peers and me to share your hopes, concerns and ideas for improvement.”
As for @weseeyou_binghamton, Saint Ange said he will continue working with students and the theatre department to address such issues.
“We have no major plans for the account, but we, as a student group, will be having continued meetings with the department to address other racial insensitive incidences that occur in the department,” Saint Ange wrote. “We hope to motivate the department to adopt ongoing racial sensitivity training.”