Drama schools accused of hypocrisy over anti-racism statements

UK’s leading institutions apologise after current and former students highlight racist incidents

The UK’s most prestigious drama schools have apologised for not doing enough to combat racism on their campuses after being accused of hypocrisy over social media posts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada), the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (Alra), the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (Lipa) and the Oxford School of Drama all apologised for incidents at their institutions after students spoke out on social media to detail their experiences.

The Oxford School of Drama said that it “needs to do better as an institution and take steps to safeguard our community of students”, after former BAME students said they had been targeted by teachers who dismissed concerns and singled them out because of their race.

The school was criticised after tweeting that it stood “in solidarity with everyone fighting against racism and injustice right across the world. Today and everyday. Black Lives Matter” on 2 June.

After the tweet, former students outlined racist incidents that they had experienced. Dipo Ola said that while studying at the Oxford School of Drama he was asked if he was “playing a slave” by another student, when he appeared as Egeon in The Comedy of Errors.

Ola said: “There’s a uniformed experience that goes on in drama schools. It’s systemic racism, from the top down. The biggest thing for the most part these drama schools don’t have anyone to answer to. They aren’t held accountable.”

The actor said he was regularly mistaken for another black student who attended the school years before, and was dismissed when he drew attention to the lack of BAME staff and dearth of plays written by playwrights of colour.

“When you brought it up, you feel like a burden,” he said. “You felt like you were causing trouble. When we talk about race we’re seen as overreacting. There’s always that tinge.”

Other prominent drama schools have been criticised and there have been calls for leadership change after students outlined racism on their campuses.

Lipa students called for leadership change after the institute’s principal, Mark Featherstone-Witty, released an initial statement that “every life matters” in response to the death of George Floyd.

That statement was withdrawn, but current Lipa students said racial slurs often went unchallenged and that there was still a dearth of BAME students on certain courses at the school.

Rada released a statement saying it was “committed to supporting all black students” but acknowledged “there is work we must do”, after a former student said she was told “there are no black playwrights, we can’t teach you that, they don’t exist,” by a tutor.

Alra released a statement saying it “clearly and demonstrably failed some of the students” and said it has “taken immediate steps to ensure that the future will be different”. A former Alra student, Lamin Touray, told The Stage he was forced to work with other students who were overtly racist and that his time there turned into a “living hell”.

Central said it was “deeply sorry” for remaining “complicit in ongoing systemic and institutional racism” after Shaniqua Okwok told The Stage her appearance was regularly commented on and she was told “you will play a slave and you have to come to terms with that, it’s inherent in your trauma,” by a tutor.

Ola said he spoke out because of the double standards institutions showed. “We needed to make them accountable. You can’t lie to people and say you care about black lives,” he said. “It’s so insensitive.”


Lanre Bakare

The GuardianTramp

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