NY High School Pulls the Plug on Tarzan Production Amid Concerns That Students Would Be Cast as Apes

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Amid concerns of racial insensitivity, a New York high school has pulled the plug on its upcoming production of Disney’s Tarzan.

The Rockland/Westchester Journal-News reports that the drama club at Alexander Hamilton High School was prepared to kick off auditions for their Tarzan adaptation on Dec. 4, but those plans came to a screeching halt when two parents complained to Principal Joseph Englehardt and the club’s music director and producer, Rob Jacoby.

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“The concerns were over the original storyline behind Tarzan of the Apes,” Superintendent Marc Baiocco told the Journal-News on Monday. “We were doing the Disney version, just to be clear.”

For those out the loop, Tarzan of the Apes made its debut in All-Story Magazine in 1912. Though it would go on to spawn dozens of sequels and an endless supply of film and television adaptations, in modern times it’s been heavily criticized for its racist overtones, brazen support of imperialism, and focus on “the differences of the species” in exploring “a white man coming of age in a hostile, black African world.”

So considering the source material, it’s clear why parents weren’t having it. And as a result, despite the school’s insistence that their adaptation would draw from Disney’s 1999 animated release, auditions will be held for the Shakespeare in the Park adaptation of Twelfth Night instead.

“They just were worried about the portrayal of our students in terms of students of color and what-not in that,” Baiocco said, acknowledging the reluctance of parents having their children playing simians on stage.

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He added, “One of the things that we’re working on this year is a big equity push in terms of making sure that we’re equitable in everything that we do. One of the messages that I had conveyed to parents at the beginning of [the] school year was that if one person felt uncomfortable with something, please let us know that. We want those voices to be heard.”

Thankfully those voices were heard loud and clear.

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About the author

Jay Connor

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for ya'll to stop putting sugar in grits.