To the editors:
The February 1 issue of the Reader contained a review of a double bill at the Steppenwolf Theatre. My name is Leelai Demoz and I was one of the actors who appeared in Tennessee/Bite the Hand.
Anthony Adler said of me, “Wildly inappropriate in his short dreadlocks and coffee skin, Demoz nevertheless oozes a quiet rapture . . .”
Not only is that statement an insult to my race and to my abilities as an actor, but also to the theater community in this city.
When I was cast by the director, Jim True, it was because I was the best person for the role. He wasn’t trying to make a political statement or trying to please anyone by casting a Black actor in his play. He cast me on the basis of my audition. The issue of my race never came up during rehearsals or performances. No one at Steppenwolf ever batted an eyelash about having me in the show. No audience member phoned Steppenwolf to voice their dissatisfaction at having an interracial cast.
I would have had a measure of respect for Mr. Adler if he had come out and said what he really meant, that I am a good actor despite the fact that I am a “nigger.” But Mr. Adler tried to hide behind an inoffensive facade of “appropriateness” which made his statement doubly offensive.
The Chicago theater community as a whole has a pretty decent record of casting actors without discrimination. (Of course, some theaters do need to reassess their casting practices.) If Mr. Adler had his way, would casting be based purely on race? Would he consider it “wildly inappropriate” for Olivier to play Othello? In cases where the roles are not race specific, would the parts automatically go to White actors? Mr. Adler’s pedestrian view of casting goes against the variety and vibrancy of theater in Chicago.
In light of his transparent bigotry, I request that the Reader not have Anthony Adler review my future performances. I will always be good and I will always, always, always be Black.
Anthony Adler replies:
(1) You were playing an Appalachian white, Mr. Demoz. Wouldn’t you honestly say that dreadlocks and coffee skin are wildly inappropriate on an Appalachian white? Is it racist of me to remark on the obvious? In any event, the point of the sentence–as even you seem to know, though you’ve read it as negatively as you possibly can–was that the superficial visual discrepancy didn’t matter. You succeeded well in a role for which you looked, on a purely physical level, all wrong. We’re basically agreeing here, Mr. Demoz: race shouldn’t matter onstage.
(2) I am deeply offended by your attempt to shove filthy words down my throat. The word “nigger” is a part neither of my vocabulary or of my spirit. It is the purest McCarthyism for you to smear me with what you suppose I “really meant.”