Lakota Cancels Christie Play

Michael D. Clark, Cincinnati Enquirer, November 27, 2007

A widely performed school play has been canceled by Lakota officials after a recent meeting with a local NAACP official.

The internationally acclaimed play—Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians”—was to be performed by students at Lakota East High School this weekend.

But Gary Hines, president of the local NAACP branch, recently complained to Lakota officials that the play, based on Christie’s 1939 mystery novel, was inappropriate for a school production.

Hines said the book’s original title and cover illustration used for its initial publishing that year in England was a racial slur toward blacks and included a cover illustration of a black person and a hangman’s noose.

“The original title was ‘Ten Little (N—-—-—-),’ and it is important to say that because that was the actual title,” Hines said Monday.

The title of the international bestseller was widely changed after 1939, and school theater productions in America have performed the murder mystery play as either “Ten Little Indians” or “And Then There Were None” for decades since.

Hines claims that a lack of racial diversity among Lakota’s students and teachers allowed the play to be chosen despite the history surrounding its original title.

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But Hines, who operates GPH Consultants—a diversity training company—in West Chester Township, said that despite his strong protest, it was Lakota officials’ idea to cancel the play in response to his complaints.

Jon Weidlich, spokesman for Butler County school district, said subsequent discussions—after district officials met with Hines earlier this month—among students and staff at Lakota East High School led to the decision to cancel the play.

“After learning of the play’s origins and the hurt that it caused, we had hoped to use the performances as a way to create a discussion about diversity of all kinds in our community. However, students and staff continued to raise issues, and it was quickly obvious that bad feelings about the play were much more widespread and strong than originally thought. The best action seemed to be to switch to a different play,” Weidlich said.

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But Joan Powell, president of the Lakota Board of Education, criticized Hines, whose local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People includes Liberty and West Chester townships, Hamilton and Fairfield.

Powell said Hines has a history of making racial accusations against Lakota schools with his personal financial interests sometimes coming into play.

In 2002, Hines accused Lakota schools of widespread, systemic racism and recommended that more than 2,000 Lakota employees be required to enroll in diversity and cultural sensitivity training similar to what was offered by his company. He promised to compile a report months later detailing his accusations against the schools but never produced a document.

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[Powell] disagrees with the administration’s decision to cancel the play.

“I’m concerned about censorship, and I’m concerned about the message it sends to other student productions that we are now in the business of censorship,” Powell said.

Lakota East senior Luke Null, who has rehearsed since September to perform as one of the lead characters, said “pressure from the local NAACP canceled the play.”

“I read the play as part of a class in the ninth grade. There are no racial undertones in it at all, and we weren’t putting on the play under it’s original name from 1939. We were putting on the play under another name,” Null said. He and other theater students are now scrambling to find another play to perform some time early in 2008.

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