‘Theatre Is a White Invention’ Says Leading Actress Dame Janet Suzman

Kunal Dutta, Independent, December 9, 2014

Theatre is “a white invention” and in the DNA of white people but not others, one of Britain’s most respected actors has said.

Dame Janet Suzman was responding to Meera Syal, the Asian writer and actress who last week appealed to the theatre industry to do more to cater for Asian audiences.

“Theatre is a white invention, a European invention, and white people go to it. It’s in their DNA. It starts with Shakespeare,” she said in comments reported by The Guardian.

The 74-year-old actress, who has played an extensive range of leading parts in Shakespeare’s dramas and was made a dame in 2011 for her services to drama, was asked about Ms Syal calling for theatres to cater for Asian audiences.

She said: “Catering is probably the correct word. It’s as if one was ordering food for a special wedding where the tastes are different.

“Some people are vegetarians and some are not. I don’t know what to say. Until the Asian writers make plays that will appeal, how can one say that?

“Stuff’s going on at the National [Theatre], which is an adaptation of that brilliant novel written by a white woman about the slums of [Mumbai]. If that’s catering, then it’s brilliantly catered for. East is East, which is bloody well thought through. But it’s up to writers to do it.”

Ms Syal told The Guardian in response: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard any single race or culture claim theatre as their invention before.

“The sharing of stories between performers and audience stretches across every single civilisation beginning with the oral tradition of re-enacting folk tales or religious myths.

“But this shouldn’t be an argument about what theatre is or who ‘invented’ it. This is a more profound discussion about the relevance of the stories we tell and for whom we tell them.”

Dame Suzman, the ex-wife of former Royal Shakespeare Company director Sir Trevor Nunn, has  been a vocal opponent of racism. Born in South Africa, her aunt was the anti-apartheid campaigner Helen Suzman.

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  • IstvanIN

    In all fairness the East Asians, at least the Japanese, Chinese and Thai, had theater. Also, in fairness, European theater was written for people of European descent and that is who it will appeal to, so on that point I agree. Furthermore British theater should not have to do more to attract Asians, which I suppose means Indians/Pakis/Bangladeshis, let them go to theater on the sub-continent.

    • serious123

      Yes, it would have more accurate to say taste and class are not in the black DNA.

    • John Dewey

      About 10-20 years ago the British government informed all of the various cultural organizations receiving subsidies (museums, bands, choirs, theaters, etc.) that they must lure blacks and Muslims to their venues or they would get their subsidies cut off. They really don’t have a choice.

  • superlloyd

    Of course, it’s a European invention. It started with the ancient Greeks.

    • Anglokraut

      I was thinking that too; something along the lines of “I’m sure all those ancient Greek comedies and tragedies were written by Shakespeare, too.”
      Ugh, people, keep your facts straight–any little slip will negate all the truth you say.

      • Speedy Steve

        The plays of Euripides are as timely now as when they were first shown. Penguin Classics has a nice cheap copy.

  • TruthBeTold

    Asians too. They have their own theater tradition.

    What Whites and Asians have given us is art and a written language; things that ennoble us (at least until the 20th Century when plays were written to push liberal agenda).

    We’re the ones who created great saga and myths about heroes, many of which, old and new, are now being co-opted by non-whites.

  • MekongDelta69

    I was applauding until I got to this sentence:

    “Dame Suzman, the ex-wife of former Royal Shakespeare Company director Sir Trevor Nunn, has been a vocal opponent of racism.”

    I stopped applauding…

    • David Ashton

      As I always say, even half a buttered matzo is better than a stale crumb of burned apple pie. “There is nothing like a Dame.”

      • DaveMed

        Lol. Although, I love the flavor of burned pie crust.

    • Christorchaos


  • B.A_2014

    I’m an under class white man and I’ve been to the theatre numerous times as have most if not all my closest friends and families. I doubt there is a black or Asian working class man sitting In a theatre this moment, this week, hell this year.

    • Screamin_Ruffed_Grouse

      Not a big theatre fan myself, but I do love a good symphony orchestra. It bothers me that so many of my peers (working class Whites) hear me say that and look at me like I have three heads or even ridicule me for it.

      It doesn’t bother me that they’re not personally into classical music , but that so many have been successfully taught to believe that there’s something wrong with it; that it’s only for rich White snobs and that any appreciation for the orchestra or other cultural arts, is somehow shameful or elitist or whatever. This sort of attitude tends to bode poorly for peoples who espouse it. I don’t like things that bode poorly for mine.

  • Luca

    The non-Europeans are jealous. It’s that simple. They flatter us by copying us and wanting to live among us, while pretending to be victims of us.

    • Paleoconn

      As Joe Sobran pointed out, it is likely Christian civilization is hated more for its virtues than its flaws. It’s sheer jealousy, the same kind as that of a pygmy beholding a giant.

  • I dare any of these people not to use any white invention for just 24 hours.

    • APaige

      24 minutes would be difficult.

    • CJ Haze

      Even the word ‘hour’ is derived from white invention.

    • Sick of it

      I’m sure the Asians could live without a fork…

      • ShermanTMcCoy

        And soap. And deodorant.

        • Sick of it

          Yep, only “butter people” need that sort of thing. Surely.

    • Bryce Armstrong

      Everything everybody ever uses in 24 hours was actually a black invention.

    • TruthBeTold

      I was reading an article on HuffPost yesterday and one black woman was going on and on about how white people just don’t appreciate black people and what they’ve contributed to America.

      I want to ask her to look around her right now and give up every comfort she has that the white man invented.

  • newscomments70

    Western theater is not what it used to be. I find the theater claustrophobic and either boring or offensive. I brought my aging parents to a play by Noel Coward, called “Fallen Angels”. That was a classic, written in the 20s, about “swinging London”. It was actually pretty good. I wanted to see what else was available from this writer, but all I could find was some drivel about an aging homosexual couple, pushing the gay agenda. The last play at our theater starred one of the actors from Laverne and Shirley. It was about vaginas. it wasn’t “The Vagina Monologues”, but something new (Hoorah!). I did not see it. I want to wait for “Angry Black Women Yelling ‘Cracker'” or something. That would be fun to watch. Maybe that racist black teacher at Exeter could put on a one man show.

    • pcmustgo

      Go see David Mamet’s Oleanna or Race!

    • MBlanc46

      Tom Stoppard has written some wonderful plays. Margaret Edson’s “W;t” from about ten years ago is superb. Below, pcmustgo mentions David Mamet, who has some first-rate work. Television has probably diluted dramatic writing with its insatiable appetite and lowest-common-denominator approach, but there is still good writing.

    • TruthBeTold

      I mentioned previously that until the 20th century, art and theater used to ennoble us.

      I live in a city with a large number of small theaters. Two new Christmas play this year are about homosexuals and a boy who wants to be a girl.

      It’s all Agenda. Agenda media. Agenda Journalism. Agenda Feminism. Agenda Theater. etc.

      • newscomments70

        Most of the theater customers are the elderly. My parents and their friends attend…only to be nauseated. I’m not sure why they do it.

  • antiquesunlight

    Not only is she right in essential meaning, I’m pretty sure she is technically right. As far as I know, the Greeks were the first to create true plays (as opposed to song-and-dance shows and the like), starting around the 5th century BC, and theatre has been a distinctly Western tradition ever since.

  • FinnShane

    If they want it they can write their own damn plays then. I can just imagine the backlash and hand wringing that would occur when a White writes a play to try to appeal to them and instead is accused of “perpetuating stereotypes” or being “culturally insensitive” and “ignorant”, or God forbid, the dreaded R word.

  • Yves Vannes

    The Greeks didn’t consider themselves European – and would have – justifiably – considered it an insult. That said, the inheritors of the Greek tradition were the Europeans (Seneca is underrated). The “Asians”, i.e. Pakis, consider it verboten and didn’t have a clue what theater was until the Brits ran their hell hole and attempted to introduce literacy to the barbarian horde. Religious ceremonies don’t count as “theater”.

    • BulgAryan

      The Greeks are semitic late immigrants to the European continent, probably from Ethiopia.

      • none of your business

        They are not from Ethiopia. They are not semitic. Semitic is a language group. Ancient Greek was and modern Greek still is an indo european language. They were immigrants from the north. There are many sculptures. They are not semitic or Ethiopian at all. There is a mosiac of Alexander the great. His hair and eyes were light brown and his skin very fair. Their most admired hair color was blonde. Helen of Troy was supposed to have strawberry blonde hair.

        Were they Ethiopian don’t you think the Persians, Egyptians and Romans would have mentioned it?

  • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

    As there is nothing faintly comparable to Shakespeare in non-Western civilizations, nor is their anything comparable to Western literature. Thomas Macauley, British historian, on Asian (in this case Indian) literature:

    “I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed both here and at home with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the Oriental learning at the valuation of the Orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is, indeed, fully admitted . . .” (1835)

    He could have said as much of Far Eastern literature.

    • dukem1

      Macauley..Sartor Sartoris?…The tailor retailored?
      Am I remembering my Victorian Lit right?

      • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

        Probably not:

        “Sartor Resartus (meaning ‘The tailor re-tailored’) is an 1836 novel by Thomas Carlyle, first published as a serial in 1833–34 in Fraser’s Magazine.” (Wikipedia)

        • TonyWestfield

          Pluribus, one of my professors made good use an alternative interpretation of Sartor Resartus. He sometimes called it “the clothes re-sewn.” I’ve always appreciated this because the duality has a reflective quality, i.e., the remaking of the tailor and also the remaking of his work.

          P.S., Macauley was a first-rate mind. Your quoting him, above, serves as a credible framing for the whole conversation here on this thread. Kudos.

  • Evette Coutier

    She’s not correct. Japanese had their own theater long before the influence of western culture. It’s certainly not western theater, but it’s light years ahead of Africans bouncing up and down to hollowed out log drums.

    • ricpic

      Japanese theater is so highly mannered that it does not travel — at all. Whatever its quality it is impenetrable to the western mind. It is wholly parochial. King Lear, on the other hand, translated into Japanese can move Japanese.

      • Evette Coutier

        Absolutely. Western theater is one of the great creations of mankind. The symphony orchestra is too. These are cultural creations that rival the great advances in science and technology. No so with Asian theater. But compared to African contributions, Japanese are light years ahead. That was my point.

      • none of your business

        Japanese theater only exists because of government subsidies. No one but no one goes to kabuki theater any more.

      • none of your business

        One of Kurasaki’s best movies was Macbeth set in medieval Japan.

      • Have you ever watched the movie “Ran”? That’s really just “King Lear”. On the other hand, the western movie “The Magnificent Seven” is really just a remake of “Seven Samurai”. The latter very much needs to be remade, in color.

        • ricpic

          Japanese films like Ran and Seven Samurai are examples of the Japanese genius for piggybacking on western cinema, in both camera technique and cinematic methods of story telling, just as the Japanese have piggybacked superbly on other western technologies. That in no way diminishes Kurosawa’s achievement. Seven Samurai is on many best pictures ever ten top lists. Just that it is a derivative achievement.

    • Kabuki and Noh.

    • Ultimate187

      Those aren’t the Asians they’re talking about. In Britain the usage is different. They mean Pakistanis, Indians etc.

      • Evette Coutier

        If that’s true then my mistake.

      • ElComadreja

        They refer to the others as “Orientals”.

  • Urbane Neanderthal

    Janet Suzman, might get away with this one without too much fallout, she’s Jewish.

    • willbest

      Also people over 70 have a natural immunity regardless.

  • Reynardine

    Depends on your definitions, but theatre existed in India in the form of Sanskrit dramas and comedies for quite some time as well. However, they were probably influenced in some part due to Greek traders who regularly visited the shores of West India.

    • dukem1

      Not being critical at all, but you are writing in the past tense…

      • Reynardine

        Thanks for the catch, I was writing in the context of Sanskrit plays, but you’re right India still has a booming media industry.

        Sanskrit is hardly a spoken language today and I bet the plays are not performed outside an academic context very regularly. Sanskrit, though once the lingua franca of India, has not been designated as a official province language, though it is spoken in isolated areas in India.

  • LeonNJ

    A black guy invented the Super Soaker.

    • willbest

      In fairness, I was a kid when that thing hit the market. It revolutionized water gun fights.

    • MAJ

      He got the idea from water cannons – a White invention.

    • Malgus

      Yes, that’s all very exciting. And tomorrow, we’re going to the zoo…

  • Uncle Bob

    Class and culture: Handsome is as Handsome does. (Well, most of the time.)

  • Speedy Steve

    Kunal Dutta must not have read the plays of Euripides. Shakespeare is a Johnny-come-lately in the world of entertainment. Obviously this tawny fadge has lived in England too long. I’m sure Indians and Chinese had theater long long ago. A quick go-ogle search brings this up
    Yup. 1766 BC

    • MBlanc46

      What could you have expected from Kunal Dutta.

    • antiquesunlight

      Yeah I don’t think the Chinese were doing Oedipus Rex in 400 BC.

  • MBlanc46

    Turkey and Indonesia have shadow-puppet theaters. Japan has the stylized No and Kabuki theaters. China has a species of opera. But as far as I know, only the Europeans developed naturalistic theater.

  • Jeff Traube

    Maybe she would prefer those who invented Flashmobs and the Knockout game. Jewess who put white South Africans in harms way . . .

    • Reynardine

      Rape is an artform, right?

  • DaveMed

    I haven’t been to the “theatre” very much, but I do go to classical performances. I have seen East-Asians there, among the majority-White crowds.

    Now, if they’re talking about catering to “Asians” in the British use of the word… what, exactly, does Syal want them to do?

    The finer arts appeal to those with the intelligence to appreciate them.

    • none of your business

      The muslims would burn down any theater that showed any of those pretty girl in flashy saris musicals they love in India.

  • phillyguy

    I’m not too keen on theater, but I’ll take John Wayne, Errol Flynn,Humphrey Bogart and any film noir any day of the week.

    • We’re big fans of Western movies here. My own favorites are “Dead Man’s Walk”, “Commanche Moon”, “Lonesone Dove” and “Streets of Laredo”, while Sayaka and my mother are fond of Clint Eastwood’s movies in the same genre. Some lady friends and I saw the play “Berlin” at the Sydney Opera House in 1997, but my tastes in theater plays run more toward “The King and I”.

  • ViktorNN

    Here’s how it works: when whites “get into” something Asian, they’re “appropriating.” When status seeking East and South Asians glom onto Western high culture, it shows their exceptional taste and level of success.

    • willbest

      Any time somebody complains about appropriating I say “No doubt, those fuckers should stop flying in airplanes, using radio transmission of any kind, and taking vaccines or antibiotics. It is despicable the way they use our culture like that.”

      It always shuts them up

  • none of your business

    Suzman is a jewish name. I think all cultures had some kind of theater, at least until fanatic muslims conquered the countries.

  • cherrie greenbaum123

    Kabuki theatre roughly matches up with Shakespeare, going back to around 1600 or so. Thespis first stepped out of the chorus line in ancient Greece around 600 BC. You could say that popular theatre is geared toward a more Eurocentric audience since they are the ones who patronize live theatre, but it would be incorrect to label it a strictly white invention. On the other hand, minstrel shows were widely popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, so this could be viewed as an early attempt at integration of blacks into the theatre. You have to remember, too, that in ancient Greece theatre as well as much later in Shakespeare’s day, even women were not permitted to appear on stage as actors. Such a thing was akin to being a prostitute at that time. So the dynamic of theatre itself has been slow to change. I doubt today most whites have the patience to sit through a live theatrical performance, which is a shame because it is one of the few things we have to make us feel fully alive.

  • RaymondWalnuts

    Amen. I enjoy theatre most because I can enjoy with all whites. One of the only things left in Milwaukee. It’s actually quiet and enjoyable, full of talent, and not feral and loud….

  • JohnEngelman

    “Theatre is a white invention, a European invention, and white people go to it. It’s in their DNA. It starts with Shakespeare,”

    – Kunal Dutta, Independent, December 9, 2014

    Actually, it started in ancient Athens, but the point still has merit.

    • LHathaway

      Only whites are proud of their propaganda. . .

  • none of your business

    “. Born in South Africa, her aunt was the anti-apartheid campaigner Helen Suzman.’ Other than Lenin and Trotsky Helen Suzman and Joe schmo or whatever his name was were the most evil anti White jews of the20th century.

  • Yves Vannes

    According to anthropological studies the Greeks are caucasoids who have descended from two branches of that family. One was from the steppe above Thessaly (now Bulgaria and Ukraine) and the other branch migrated from the area around the Caspian Sea. They have the “Eve Mitochondrial DNA” so this means that they left Africa at least 50,000 years ago.

    • BulgAryan

      Google a study called “HLA genes in Macedonians and the sub-Saharan origin of the Greeks” by the Department of Immunology and Molecular Biology, Universidad Complutense, Madrid. (Would give you a link, but AmRen moderates posts, containing links). The study finds:

      Greeks are found to have a substantial relatedness to sub-Saharan (Ethiopian) people, which separate them from other Mediterranean groups. Both Greeks and Ethiopians share quasi-specific DRB1 alleles, such as *0305, *0307, *0411, *0413, *0416, *0417, *0420, *1110, *1112, *1304 and *1310. Genetic distances are closer between Greeks and Ethiopian/sub-Saharan groups than to any other Mediterranean group and finally Greeks cluster with Ethiopians/sub-Saharans in both neighbour joining dendrograms and correspondence analyses. The time period when these relationships might have occurred was ancient but uncertain and might be related to the displacement of Egyptian-Ethiopian people living in pharaonic Egypt.

      • Yves Vannes

        I’ve seen that before. I heard that explained in the following way:

        20,000 ago with the last advance of the continental glaciers the caucasoids pushed south driving darker races that had more recently migrated out of Africa back into Africa or wiped them out. They would have fought, enslaved, cannibalized and mated with each other. This is why caucasians in southern Spain, Portugal, Greece, etc are darker skinned than their cousins to the north and carry some of the allele of Afro-Asians. (This mix is also observable in the Near East, India and in the Far East). It isn’t that the Greeks came out of Africa more recently, it’s that later African migrations were pushed back into Africa. The Greeks have the Eve mitochondrial DNA so they had to be a part of that small group that pushed out of Africa 50,000 years ago. That southern Europeans carry similar alleles with Ethiopians would be expected since a mixed race would carry both genetic histories.

        Since population distribution was rather thin, a small isolated group of proto-Greeks who came upon a small isolated group of proto-Ethiopians could account for the similarity between the two. I would assume that other caucasoid groups who encountered other African groups should show a similar relatedness – assuming the Africans made it back to Africa.

        It may have worked out to be similar to caucasoid Indians and Dravidians. Nowhere else to go so complete absorption of both groups with some geographical gradations.


        The Tuscans have an old joke: Garibaldi didn’t unit italy, he divided Africa.


        Also the Afro-Asians(north Af + Horn of Af) share some genetic ancestry with caucasoids so they are considered a different group than the Niger Bantu who are only sub Saharan. It is the Afro-Asians that drove the ancestors of the Niger-Bantu south of the Sahara. They have recently found mass grave of Bantu like Africans in northern Africa.

  • RacialRay

    Four tickets for an upcoming performance of The Lion King in Manhattan set us back $648. Dinner and wine for four at Sardi’s can easily top that.

    Yeah, I can see why an evening in the city for a theater performance would not be everyone’s cup of tea. I am relieved to learn that its just something in my DNA that makes me spend money on frivolous entertainment like a drunken sailor on shore leave.

  • Is this the way we treat Shakespeare in the year that is the 450th anniversary of his birth?


  • Ellis Kurtz

    “The 74-year-old actress .. was asked about Ms Syal calling for theatres to cater for Asian audiences.”

    How about “The Clitoridectomy Monologues”.

  • MartelsGhost

    Okay, how about a new truce between East Asians and Europeans?

    East Asians have had theater for just about as long as Europeans. The make-up and music may be different but the themes are very much the same. Kurosawa was a huge Shakespeare fan.

    Anything to stop the rise of cultures whose form of story telling involves drum circles, erratic jumping and chanting incoherently while sacrificing chickens……..or goats……..or albinos…………………….some of those beasts eat albinos you know.

  • Who Me?

    So Whites “invented” theater in a style and manner that White people prefer. So what? That is what all peoples did back in history–they invented things that they themselves enjoyed and preferred. They certainly didn’t create their own culture, food, entertainment, laws or anything else for people they probably only had a slight inkling even existed, if they knew of them at all.

  • TruthBeTold

    Aeschylus describes the Greeks as dark skinned Africans

    It’s odd that isn’t reflected in the art they produced.

    • BulgAryan

      I did not say the Danaans were black negroids. They were a semitic tribe (of Dan) originating in Ethiopia. Todays Ethiopians are of mixed race, but in antiquity they were White-ish. The queen of Sheba was no negress.

  • HadEnough

    From Wikipedia: “Janet Suzman was born in Johannesburg to a Jewish family, the daughter of Betty (née Sonnenberg) and Saul Suzman, a wealthy tobacco importer.” Need anything more be said?

  • Bunky

    Has Meera Syal seen and heard a Chinese opera?
    That may explain the problem.

  • mobilebay

    I’m always puzzled when various races demand that they be catered to by the white race. I thought asians were competent enough to produce their own theater or whatever it is they want. Maybe they’ve been hanging around the “gimmie” crowd that settled in here. Where is the pride in doing something yourself rather than whining for someone else to do it for you?

  • BulgAryan

    They are (European) style theaters and Symphony Orchestras in China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Singapore and probably in Thailand. Maybe in some African countries too. But I don’t recall Beijing Opera houses or Japanese shadow theaters in Europe. This is a tacit acknowledgment of the superiority of White culture.