OPINION: Hairspray won’t diversify the theatre department

This year the EPHS theater program has decided to tread into uncharted waters: diversity. The swinging 60’s Tony Award winning musical turned hit New Line Cinema film “Hairspray” is this fall’s musical, and as a certified black girl I am admittedly less than pleased.

“Hairspray” follows high school student Tracy Turnblad as she learns about racism and fights to integrate the popular and racially segregated Corny Collins dance show. While it is a valiant effort to make our theater program more inclusive, I think it’s the wrong musical for EPHS because, despite our school being physically diverse, it is socially segregated.  And that reality is exemplified in our majority white theater program.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not not saying the theater kids are racist, but I am saying no matter how aware and progressive you may think you are, everyone has blind spots. While yes, this cast has more people of color than any performance in recent history, most of the lead roles are white, and the main characters who are black mostly serve as support for the white protagonists. While it was a noble goal, the objective of making our theater program more diverse has not been reached. The story of “Hairspray” is a classic example of the “magical negro” archetype where we see a token person of color serve no purpose outside of aiding the white protagonist. Seaweed, one of two black leads, is a placeholder to placate Tracy’s white guilt while showing little to no agency of his own.

This show is a weak attempt at diversity that reaffirms white supremacy since the white kid must be the lead supported by a person of color and never the other way around. A better musical to bolster diversity would be literally any other musical casted color blindly at EPHS.