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This week Idris Elba was called out for plagiarising playwrights, while London beamed with Pride

08 Jul 2019

Photography by Mick De Paola

What a weekend it was in London. By day, over 1.5 million people danced in the streets for the 50th Pride celebrations. Trans-inclusive lesbians lead a march, just a year after the event was hijacked by anti-trans protesters. Sadiq Khan also reminded us that probably-soon-to-be-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, called gay men “tank-topped bumboys”. By night, the legendary Stevie Wonder performed one of his last shows, reassuring the Hyde Park audience that he will be fine, but that he is taking a break to have a kidney transplant. And, UK Black Pride rounded off the weekend.

Up in Manchester, Janelle Monáe kicked off the biannual Manchester International Festival, which will see a month of original programming and work exhibited by the likes of Idris Elba (more on that later), David Lynch, Tokyo art collective Chim↑Pom, who will examine class politics through the prism of Manchester’s cholera epidemic in the 1830s, and Skepta who will create his own dystopia. Stay tuned for gal-dem’s programming coming up this weekend.

Idris Elba’s new play Tree is caught in a web of controversy

Two women writers say that they were removed from the theatre production Tree – a headline act at this year’s Manchester International Festival, hailed as the creation of Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah.

Tree is an immersive play about a man from London’s exploration of his mixed-race roots in South Africa, told through dialogue, dance, and Afrobeat. Despite being conceptualised four years ago by Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley, along with Idris Elba, Tori and Sarah feel their names have been etched out of the play’s history. The pair detailed every aspect of how they were ousted from the show, including full evidence, in a Medium article.

As the show, starring Alfred Enoch, opened on 2 July, and Tori, who has been friends with Elba for over eight years, told gal-dem: “It should have been our opening night too.” The pair were shocked to hear that the play was not heavily altered from their original like they thought, but was “riding on our creativity” and included much of their original writing. The grief they experienced as their prized piece of work was taken from them was difficult for Tori to put into words, and she said her and Sarah had cried a lot and started therapy. 

Tori explained the scaremongering that goes on in the theatre industry to prevent people speaking out. “A lot of people warned us that there is a blacklist, and we’ll be put on it. The day before we announced what happened, I had a huge meltdown and I was terrified and I remain terrified,” she said. “We’re in this industry because we love it and we feel the most at ease. To have that taken away from you because you wanted people to be better is a horrible, horrible feeling.”

Being a woman of colour in theatre is arguably in “a more dangerous place than it’s ever been”, Tori said. It is because we talk about diversity, have quotas, and cast more people of colour that the subtle racism is allowed to hide behind the statistics. “We’re always the best friend, or the shop assistant, or the person they cheat with, not the person who is front of centre just because. If we are, it’s because it’s a story about us being gay, or not white, or whatever,” Tori expressed her frustration and not seeing coincidental mixed race leads, saying she didn’t feel represented. 

With Tree, she and Sarah wanted to stray from the tired narrative of black trauma, instead writing a story of “hope and celebration that talked about cultures coming together and love”. 

When they read the first revised synopsis, Tori and Sarah were disheartened to find it was angled towards land ownership and unrest in South Africa. 

Idris Elba released a statement saying that Tori and Sarah walked away from the project, a claim that was upsetting for them to read given they have the emails where they were dismissed after they asked for credit. 

“We wanted to offer an opportunity to support these new writers while creating a piece of work of scale and to a director’s vision,” he wrote. “The outcome is an accusation of plagiarism and discrimination. However frustrating this has been for all, we will continue to offer opportunities and to support the next generation of writers and talent.”

Tori and Sarah are keen to be positive and look to the future, creating Burn Bright, to help create equal opportunities for female playwrights. You can support Burn Bright by donating or registering your support here.

China’s war on Ugyhurs: Up to 100 children taken from parents in Xinjiang

Muslim children are reportedly being separated from their families in a large and rapid campaign to build boarding schools for them. This comes on the 10th anniversary of the Urumqi riots – where at least 140 people were killed – and which many Uyghurs say precipitated the increasing oppression of Muslims in the region.

The Xinjiang region of China is home to over 10 million Uyghur Muslims, and an estimated one million adults have been detained in “Chinese concentration camps”, Zubayra Shamseden of the Uyghur Human Rights Project told gal-dem. The Chinese authorities say the Uyghurs are being “re-educated” in “vocational training centres”.

A BBC report, interviewing 60 grief-ridden parents, found that more than 100 children, all Uyghurs, had gone missing in Xinjiang. “I don’t know who is looking after them,” one mother said in a BBC report, pointing to a picture of her three young daughters, “there is no contact at all.”

Chinese state media branded the international reports of mass detainment of Uyghurs as “fake news”. The plight of the Uyghurs remains shrouded in secrecy, and it is in the hands of the world to pressure the country intro responding to claims it is committing crimes against humanity. 

Read more on what’s been going on in Xinjiang here.


• Jaden Smith has parked up a vegan food van for the homeless in LA today (8 July) called I Love You Restaurant.

• Robin Thede and Issa Rae’s A Black Lady Sketch Show, the first sketch comedy to be written, directed, and starring black women, will premiere on 2 August.

• A number of London Black Women’s Project refuges for BAME survivors of domestic abuse face closure after their funding was cut.

Chris Brown (trash)  has responded with a verbal tirade towards women who took issue with his colourist lyric “Only wanna f**k black bitches with the nice hair”. 

• The wonderful announcement that Ariel in the new Little Mermaid reboot will be played by black actress Halle Bailey triggered the racists out there this week. But we’re too busy backing Popcaan for Sebastian the crab to notice.

#AlexFromGlasto appeared on Good Morning Britain with Piers Morgan after rapper Dave brought him on stage at the festival. Piers was called out on Twitter after his claims that grime incites violence when sung by black men, but praising them when white Alex sang them.

• Senior Asian police officer Parm Sandhu accused the Met Police of discrimination, alleging she was denied a promotion based on her race and gender.

• 2020 presidential candidate Kamala Harris unveiled a $100 billion plan to back black homeownership. “So we must right the wrong and – after generations of discrimination — give black families a real shot at homeownership — historically one of the most powerful drivers of wealth,” she said at Essence Festival.

• California has become the first State to ban hairstyle discrimination in the workplace and schools.

• Big Freedia got her own Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavour in New Orleans this weekend. “Big Freedia’s Bouncing Beignets” flavour is a mix of caramel and vanilla.

Moment of the week

Cori Gauff, the 15-year-old black tennis star who beat Venus Williams on day one of Wimbledon, has progressed to the fourth round. She is serious inspiration and I can’t stand John McEnroe’s crusty, patronising comments.