Is Theater A White Thing?


One of the UK’s most distinguished actors has been criticized for claiming theater is a “white invention” that is ingrained in the DNA of the Caucasian race.

Dame Janet Suzman, known for her Shakespearean roles, was responding to the views of Meera Syal, a British-Asian comedian, who last week urged theater companies to do more to involve the UK’s Asian community.

Author Meera Syal.(AFP Photo / Evan Agostini)Author Meera Syal.(AFP Photo / Evan Agostini)“Theater is a white invention, a European invention, and white people go to it,” Suzman claimed. “It’s in their DNA. It starts with Shakespeare.”

Suzman also complained that people from ethnic minority backgrounds simply don’t go to the theatre because it isn’t part of their culture.

“I’ve just done a South African play. My co-star is a young black man from the slums of Cape Town. Totally brilliant actor! I saw one black face in the room, at the Print Room [London theater],” she said.

“And they don’t bloody come. They’re not interested. It’s not in their culture, that’s why. Just as their stuff is not in white culture,” she added.

I’m trying to think of any important theater works that were not written by whites.

The people who support high culture are overwhelmingly white. The people who go to the opera and to the symphony, in addition to the theater, are white. The people who subscribe to The New Yorker and the New York Times are white. The people who invented all the important ideas over the past 500 years are white. The people who have driven the advance of democracy, free speech and civilization over the past 500 years are white.

The people who ended slavery were white. The people who go to horrible places and build hospitals are white.

The people who built the United States, England, Australia, Canada and New Zealand were white.

All of the great painters and classical music composers were white. All of the greatest writers were white.

Show me the Proust of the Zulus (said Allen Bloom)! Where are the black, brown and yellow equivalents of Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Milton?

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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