Whitewashing West Side Story… AGAIN

Apr 23, 2018
2:27 PM

In response to the news that Sierra Boggess has been cast to portray the role of Maria in an upcoming West Side Story concert, the following open letter and petition was created a few days ago:

Dear Tim Sage of Paradigm Agency,

I don’t know if you saw the story a little while back about casting in the upcoming Hellboy reboot. British actor Ed Skrein was announced in a role that was originally written as a person of Asian descent. After a couple of days of backlash on social media, Ed published an open letter about dropping out of the project. It’s been hailed as a watershed moment for representation and actor responsibility and strength in standing up to whitewashing in Hollywood. Gratitude and support continues to erupt around Ed. It’s been truly beautiful to see. He is seeing myriad unexpected benefits from turning down a huge payday and breaking a contract. I like to imagine he thinks it is worth it and that the overwhelmingly good publicity will mean that all of that risk will pay off with incredible karma for his career.

Sierra Boggess is already a hero to so many. She’s a Disney Princess. Little girls and young singers all over the world already look up to her. She now has the chance to make a lasting legacy on the theater world by standing up for those whose voices have been ignored for too long. She has a chance to be a hero not just because of her talent, grace, and beauty. She has a chance to be a hero because of her integrity, bravery, and selflessness.

This isn’t “just a concert.” Video will circulate and last forever. I’m heartbroken that this means that a whole new generation of young singers will grow up with an even more recent legitimized example of one of the few iconic roles written as Latinx being whitewashed. People still use Natalie Wood as an excuse to cast white women as Maria. And that film was decades ago. Sierra will be a fresh new example to use for decades more. Or, Sierra will be a hero who stood up and changed the way the world thinks about casting Maria, providing improved conditions for young singers whose voices we never hear.

She can be their voice. She can be a hero.

I hope she will choose to be the hero that she can be.

Thank you for your time,
Lauren Villegas
Founder, Project Am I Right

P.S This is Boggess in a video about what role she should have NEVER played.

It looks like the pressure worked because on Monday afternoon, Boggess posted this on her Facebook:

Last week, it was announced that I will be singing in a concert of West Side Story at Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms in London. Because it was a concert presentation and not the show proper — I had signed on to lend my voice to honor Leonard Bernstein in his centennial this year, with an orchestra I have loved singing with for years, following in the long list of sopranos who have all sung the score before me.

After much reflection, I’ve realized that if I were to do this concert, it would once again deny Latinas the opportunity to sing this score, as well as deny the IMPORTANCE of seeing themselves represented onstage. And that would be a huge mistake. Since the announcement of this concert, I have had many conversations about why this is a crucial time, now more than ever, to not perpetuate the miscasting of this show. I apologize for not coming to this realization sooner and as an artist, I must ask myself how I can best serve the world, and in this case my choice is clearer than ever: to step aside and allow an opportunity to correct a wrong that has been done for years with this show in particular. I have therefore withdrawn myself from this concert and I look forward to continuing to be a voice for change in our community and our world!