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Controversy surrounds London’s West End for hosting ‘Black Out’ performances free from the ‘white gaze’

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London’s Noel Coward Theatre’s upcoming viewing experience for “Slave Play,” featuring Kit Harington of “Game of Thrones” fame, is garnering controversy for hosting two performances exclusively for “black-identifying” audiences during its three-month run starting in June.

These “Black Out nights” aim to provide a space free from the “white gaze,” though the approach has stirred controversy, with many labeling it as overly simplistic and discriminatory.

Jeremy O Harris, the American playwright behind “Slave Play,” brings the production to London following a successful Broadway run that garnered 12 Tony nominations. The play, which explores interracial couples engaging in therapy through slave and master role-play, has been both acclaimed and criticized for its provocative handling of sensitive themes.

The concept of “Black Out nights” was developed by Harris to foster a “safe space” for black people without the external pressure of a racially mixed audience. As reported by the Telegraph, this initiative seeks to distribute tickets through black community groups, sidestepping legal issues that would arise from directly excluding individuals based on race.

Critics of the practice, including Amy Gallagher of London’s Social Democratic Party, have condemned the move as racially divisive, arguing that it contradicts principles of inclusivity by excluding individuals based on skin color.

“This is definitely racist. Excluding anyone on the basis of skin colour in this way is racist,” she said. “They seem to be reverting to a critical race theory definition of racism whereby, according to Ibram X Kendi, we need present discrimination, against white people, to make up for past discrimination.”

“They say they want to be free from the ‘white gaze’ which, of course, means white people, but they will not go as far to say white people as it would be illegal,” she added. “This is an extremely simplistic and racist approach generally. We have a large Asian and mixed-race population. Would they be encouraged or discouraged to attend?”

Harris defended the initiative as a necessary step towards making theatre more accessible and welcoming to black individuals, arguing that “people have to be radically invited into a space to know that they belong there.”

Harris claims that black people don’t feel like they belong in the theater and that they “feel safe with a lot of other black people,” as “black audiences and white audiences respond to things differently.”



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