Seyi Omooba, the actor fired from The Color Purple over anti-gay comments has claimed she was sacked because there are so many LGBT+ people in the “theatre community”.
Omooba was cast as Celie in a new stage adaptation of The Color Purple, which tells the story of a sexual abuse survivor who regains her confidence after falling for another woman.
However, she was sacked in March 2019 after it emerged she had written on Facebook: “I do not believe you can be born gay, and I do not believe homosexuality is right, though the laws of this land has made it legal doesn’t mean its [sic] right”.
She later announced that she was taking legal action against the Curve Theatre in Leicester and her former talent agency, Global Artists, for breach of contract and religious discrimination. Omooba is represented by Christian Concern.
At an employment appeals tribunal on Thursday (19 November), legal representatives for Omooba said the actor was sacked in part due to “the particular demography of the theatre company”, of which “LGBTQ people are a sizeable proportion”, The Telegraph reports.
The tribunal heard that Omooba’s former employer was “concerned about the offence taken among the community at the claimant’s post and the threats of boycott of the production”.
Lawyers for Omooba argued that her anti-LGBT+ views would not have undermined her ability to play an iconic queer character.
They also claimed that the actor was discriminated against when she was sacked for expressing her views.
The tribunal heard details of a report from critic Lloyd Evans, who argued that an actor should not have to agree with the “ethical views or the feelings of a character in a play”.
“Were that necessary, the art of drama would not exist, and many of the plays we regard as classics would be impossible to stage,” Evans said.
However, Evans’ contribution was deemed inadmissible by a judge, who declared that his submission was “not unbiased”.
Lawyers from Christian Concern also tried to submit a report from theologian Dr Martin Parsons, who argued that Omooba’s Facebook post was “a fair and reasonable expression of Christian beliefs”. This submission was also ruled inadmissible.
Thursday’s hearing was only hosted to discuss the admission of evidence, with a full tribunal scheduled to take place in February.
The Curve Theatre in Leicester and Global Artists will contest Omooba’s claims.
Sacked The Color Purple actor Seyi Omooba claimed she was fired based on ‘false information’.
In a statement released through Christian Concern, Omooba said: “The theatre gave me the choice to either retract a statement regarding my faith or lose my job. I could not do this, not even to save the career that I love. The agency made a decision to terminate my contract based on false information.”
In a statement, Christian Concern said Omooba “disagrees with the interpretation that Celie is a lesbian character”.
Christian Concern went on to claim that Celie “leads a life of immense struggle at the hands of men, until she briefly finds comfort and friendship with another woman.”
In October 2019, author Alice Walker, who wrote The Color Purple, said it would have been problematic for Omooba to play Celie.
“Playing the role of Celie while not believing in her right to be loved, or to express her love in any way she chooses, would be a betrayal of women’s right to be free,” Walker said.
“As an elder, I urge all of us to think carefully about what I am saying, even as you, Oluwaseyi Omooba, sue the theatre company for voiding your contract.”
Walker also discussed how she created the character of Celie in The Color Purple, and that she was based on Walker’s grandmother.
She added: “It is safe to say, after a frightful life serving and obeying abusive men, who raped in place of ‘making love’, my grandmother, like Celie, was not attracted to men.
“She was, in fact, very drawn to my grandfather’s lover, a beautiful woman who was kind to her, the only grown person who ever seemed to notice how remarkable and creative she was.
“In giving Celie the love of this woman, in every way love can be expressed, I was clear in my intention to demonstrate that she too, like all of us, deserved to be seen, appreciated, and deeply loved by someone who saw her as whole and worthy.”
In a statement, Curve Theatre’s chief executive Christ Stafford told PinkNews: “We continue to dispute and defend the claims by Seyi Omooba and a full hearing in respect of the case is currently listed for February 2021. That is unaffected by anything arising from the current appeals process. We will not provide any further comment at this time.”
PinkNews has also contacted Global Artists agency for comment.