Adaptation of Ancient Greek Tragedy Dubbed Racist in France

A photo from the Sorbonne website used to promote the play. The photo has since been changed. Photograph: Sorbonne

The Sorbonne university in Paris was forced to cancel a performance of a Greek tragedy featuring actors using black masks after students claimed it was “Afrophobic, colonialist and racist.”

Protesters picketed the prestigious Paris university, stopping actors from entering the theatre and accusing them of using blackface for the play “The Suppliants” by Aeschylus.

Ghyslain Vedeux, the president of the Representative Council of France’s Black Associations (Cran), issued a statement under the title: “Blackface: Colonial propaganda at the Sorbonne.”

“The vast majority of students of this establishment refuse to be associated with this Afrophobic, colonialist and racist propaganda,” he wrote. “Blackface is a practice stemming from colonial slavery, a crime against humanity, which consists of a white person making themselves up black.”

The play’s director, Philippe Brunet, responded by insisting the theatre was “a place of metamorphosis, not a refuge of identities.”

The Sorbonne denounced the blockage as “a very serious, totally unjustified attack on freedom of creation,” and French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government took the university’s side in the fray.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, speaking Thursday on France-Inter Radio, expressed concern about growing racism in France, but criticized far-left groups for fueling the debate, and “a certain violence in the name of anti-racism.”