Sacked actress 'would have refused to play gay role'

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Seyi Omooba is suing several parties for dismissed from the musicalImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Seyi Omooba is suing several parties over her dismissal from the musical

An actress who was dropped from a play for posting alleged homophobic remarks online had not realised the character she was due to portray was a lesbian, an employment tribunal has heard.

Seyi Omooba was due to play the lead character, Celie, in The Color Purple at Leicester's Curve Theatre in 2019.

Ms Omooba, who is Christian, would have refused the role if she'd known the character was gay, the tribunal heard.

However, her lawyers argued that Celie's sexuality was ambiguous.

Ms Omooba, from east London, was originally dismissed over comments she posted to Facebook in 2014.

The 26-year-old said she did "not believe you can be born gay" and that homosexuality was wrong even "though the law of this land has made it legal".

At the time the show's producers wrote in a statement: "Following careful reflection it has been decided that Seyi will no longer be involved with the production."

Ms Omooba is suing the Leicester Theatre Trust and her agents Michael Garrett Associates Ltd (Global Artists) for around £128,000 over her sacking, on the grounds of religious discrimination and a breach of contract.

A separate tribunal against the musical's co-producers, The Birmingham Hippodrome, was dropped last year, after Ms Omooba accepted they "only played a minor role" in her dismissal.

'Best known interpretation'

The Color Purple is based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer prize-winning 1982 novel of the same name. It tells the tale of Celie, a poor, young, abused African-American women in the southern United States in the 1930s.

As the story progresses, she develops a close and sexual relationship with a female blues and jazz singer, named Shug Avery.

Ms Omooba's representative, Pavel Stroilov, said "the best known interpretation" of the character is to be found in Steven Spielberg's later film version.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Director Steven Spielberg and Whoopi Goldberg, who played Celie, on the set of The Color Purple film

On Monday, the Central London Employment Tribunal heard how Ms Omooba had previously told her agents she would not play a gay role; and that in the production in question she was "never asked explicitly to play this character as a lesbian".

"In the film the lesbian theme is not present at all, there is one kiss between the female characters which can be interpreted in all sorts of ways," said Mr Stroilov.

"It is in no way obvious and was never made clear to claimant that she was expected to play a lesbian character."

He added: "It's, with respect, absurd to suggest it's for an employee, an actor, to go and inquire with an employer whether or not they interpret this play differently from Steven Spielberg."

'Resign or be dismissed'

Representing the Leicester Theatre Trust, Tom Coghlin QC noted: "The musical is not the film, they are different works with a common source, which is the novel."

He suggested Ms Omooba "didn't check" with the director as to whether Celie would be interpreted "in the usually understood way, which was as a gay character".

Mr Coghlin added that the actor's stance constituted a "repudiatory breach of contract" and that her dismissal was therefore not "unwanted conduct".

"The role that she complains about being dismissed from is one that she would have refused to play in any event," he suggested.

"Her choice was to resign or be dismissed and she chose to be dismissed."

Ms Omooba is being represented by the legal arm of Christian Concern, an organisation co-founded by her father, pastor Ade Omooba MBE.

The group said the case "will expose the mechanisms of censorship at the heart of the theatre industry", adding that "any dissenting views against LGBT ideology, especially Christian beliefs, are currently incompatible with a theatrical career".

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