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May 23, 2005
Copyright Holder Nixes Performance of Play Due to Race of Performers
The Baltimore Sun reports that the copyright holders of Big River, which is based on Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, denied permission to C-SPAN to air a performance of a song from that play by high school students on a show that celebrated high school theatre (Racial Roles Bar Students from Show). The reason given by the copyright holder is that the role of Huck was played by an African-American student and the tole of the slave, Jim, was played by a white student.
Apparently, Mark Twain's great commentary on race relations in America could not be sullied by further commentary through cross casting.
When John Milewski, executive producer of Close Up, asked R&H Theatricals in New York - the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization, which holds the license on the play - for the right to air the students' performance, permission was denied. The reason was cross casting, R&H confirmed.
Bert Fink, a spokesman for R&H, said his organization is not against cross casting, citing a 1997 Wonderful World of Disney version of Cinderella that featured R&B artist Brandy in the lead. "But when you're dealing with a theatrical work and race or ethnicity is a key factor, many authors or playwrights feel strongly that ethnicity has to be reflected in the actors who portray the characters," he said.
"In the books, Jim is a runaway slave. He is clearly in the novel an African-American man. And Huck is a free white man - that is central to the story. To ignore that component or to comment on it by switching is not faithful to the story that the musical's authors are trying to tell."
Faithful? Faithful? Heck, it couldn't be more faithful to what Mark Twain was trying to accomplish. Bloody idiots.
Siva Vaidhyanathan debates an IP lawyer commentator regarding the issue (Who is Copyright For?).
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