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Kent State Axes West Side Story Over Casting Outrage

Roles portraying Puerto Ricans were given to non-Latino students
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 3, 2018 6:10 PM CDT

(Newser) – The Sharks and the Jets will not be rumbling at Kent State this fall. The university canceled an upcoming production of West Side Story because too many leading roles went to white and non-Latino actors, Fox reports. The decision was made after a campuswide town hall meeting last month that was prompted by complaints about the casting. "The cancellation … was in response to our community members' voices and the national dialogue regarding the desire for authenticity on our stages," Eric van Baars, the university's theater director, tells Fox. A different musical, Children of Eden, will replace West Side Story as the fall production. Debuting in 1957, West Side Story is a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, centering on the rivalry between the Sharks, a gang comprised of Puerto Ricans, and the Jets, a white gang.

Some students at Kent State were angered when they saw that three leading roles portraying Puerto Rican characters, along with many supporting roles, were given to white and other non-Latino students, Kentwired reports. "It's more than just getting a role," Viviana Cardenas says. She was in the running for a Puerto Rican character, Anita, but an African-American student ultimately got the role. "When there is this story that is about people of cultures like me, about people of color like me, and that gets taken away from me … that was the most heartbreaking." However, another theater student tells the Kansas City Star that the university was "bowing to racists." The Star notes that casting issues have dogged West Side Story for decades, ever since Natalie Wood, a white actress, was cast as the Puerto Rican female lead, Maria, in the 1961 film. (Read more Kent State stories.)

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