University theatrical societies apologise for costumes using blackface

DU Players and UCD Musical Society have issued statements apologising for their use of blackface and brownface

DU Players have issued a statement saying they have taken down an image from their Facebook page showing former members of the society wearing blackface in 2009. 

The statement from DU Players said the picture “depicts an indefensible and triggering act of racism”. The society went on to state that “deleting evidence of the incident without addressing its existence would be an unfair omission of the reality of racism within Trinity College and specifically within DU Players and the performing arts”. 

Chairperson of DU Players, Ultan Pringle, told Trinity News the photo was from DU Players’ annual lip-synch event, Stars In Their Eyes, adding that the committee was informed of the photo by a past committee member this morning. 

Speaking to Trinity News, Pringle went on to state that “while this did happen eleven years ago, it still happened in DU Players”. Regarding their statement: “Silence was not an option” and that “we owe it to our members and to members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) community who were affected by such actions to be honest about the situation”. 

DU Players finished their statement with a plea for donations to alongside links to “anti-racist resources”. 

DU Players’ revelation follows controversy about blackface use by University College Dublin (UCD) Musical Society which today released a statement apologising for their “past use of black/brown face”. The society was criticised online for having their actors wearing such makeup in their productions. 

The most recent incidence of this was UCD Musical Society’s use of brownface for their November 2019 production of ‘The Addams Family’. In this production a white actor wore brownface to play Gomez Addams, a character most famously portrayed by Puerto Rican actor Raúl Júlia.  

In their statement, UCD Musical Society thanked the “members who have called us out on this matter” and emphasised the importance of ongoing education about racism. They went on to say that: “This is a time of huge change and we are trying our hardest to keep up.”  

The statement finished with the assertion that the society “acknowledge(s) that we have made mistakes in the past and we promise to learn from previous mistakes and ensure that these mistakes never happen again”. 

Blackface and brownface is the use of theatrical makeup, typically by white performers, to change their skin tone to represent a character of another race or ethnicity. The practice has a long history of racist connotations. 

The offensive use of blackface and brownface has reached wider discussion in recent years, notably with the emergence of images in September 2019 depicting the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, wearing blackface while dressed as Aladdin at a costume party in 2001. 

Protests following the murder of George Floyd in the US last week have prompted discussions about racism globally, in Ireland, and in Trinity. College today issued a statement condemning a “culture of racism” in the United States and promising changes to make Trinity a more welcoming environment to staff and students who are members of ethnic minority communities. 

Kate Glen

Kate Glen is a News Analysis Editor for Trinity News. She is a Senior Sophister History and Political Science student.