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Is it discrimination or representation? Canceled Scottsdale play leaves many in debate

Man in glasses with beard
Arizona State University
Arizona State University professor Michael Selmi.

The play "Roosters" at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre was supposed to open this month. Instead, it was controversially canceled and the stage sat empty.  

When a white actress is accidently cast to play a Mexican-American girl, is recasting the role considered discrimination?

It’s a complicated question that encompasses the moral and legal debate of authentic casting, why some in the theater community are upset, and what the playwright herself thinks about it.

After reviewing video auditions, Chris R. Chávez expected to direct an all-Latino cast for his production of "Roosters" — a play about a Southwest Hispanic-American family. The audition notice said all the characters were Mexican-American.

And Chávez believed the cast was, too. But before rehearsals began, when he referenced the cast being all-Latino, one of the actresses informed him that she was not — so he recast the role with someone who was.

“I, being a Chicano artist and this being a Chicano play, I will always forthright go with the story and who is telling the story,” Chávez said.

Chávez says he was told the mom of the teen actress complained of discrimination to Desert Stages Theatre. Production was paused as the theater’s board of directors decided what to do. 

'Potential legal and ethical liabilities'

After 10 days of silence, Chávez says he and his cast got an email from the board.

Jill Ryan joined KJZZ in 2020 as a morning reporter, and she is currently a field correspondent and Morning Edition producer.