Anger Over ‘Racist’ School Play

BBC News, June 23, 2006

A seven-year-old black boy has been withdrawn from a school play by his mother after he was cast as a monkey.

Lorraine Rees took her son, Myles, out of the production of An Enchanted Island, accusing Ashley Down Infant School in Bristol of racism.

The school said the pupils chose the parts they wanted, but a meeting between Mrs Rees and head teacher Helen Heap has failed to resolve the row.

One quarter of the school’s 170 pupils are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

In its last Ofsted inspection, the school was described as a “good school and fun to be in”.

‘Racist connotations’

Myles Rees was cast as a monkey, alongside one other black pupil and three white boys.

Mother-of-four Mrs Rees, 39, made an official complaint to the school, saying: “Everyone is aware of the racist connotations of asking a black pupil to play a monkey.”

She and her husband took their complaint to local charity Support Against Racial Incidents (Sari).

Batook Pandya, director of Sari, said there was no suggestion of deliberate racism, but questioned the “sensitivity” of the casting.

Relaxed and open

On Friday afternoon Ms Heap met to discuss the claims with Mr Pandya, Mr and Mrs Rees and advisers from the city council.

Mr Pandya said Ms Heap and Myles’s parents had shaken hands, and the meeting was relaxed and open.

But he said Mrs Rees still maintained Myles was forced to play the part of a monkey, whereas the school said he had chosen the role.

After the meeting, the school said in a statement that it “firmly refutes the allegations of racism”.

“In our experience, most children aged six or seven would usually be unaware of racial implications when choosing to play animal parts in a school play.”

But the school accepted that there were other points of view, adding: “We appreciate that a parent who has experienced racism in their life may have a very different understanding and perspective.”

The play was due to be performed next month.

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