The actress Seyi Omooba has lost the employment tribunal claim that she brought against Leicester’s Curve Theatre and talent agency Global Artists. Omooba, a Christian, was was due to star in a production of the musical The Color Purple, but was dismissed after the discovery of historic anti-gay online comments. She subsequently sued for religious discrimination and breach of contract.
Omooba was originally cast in the lead role of Celie in the stage adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, in a joint production by Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome. Celie is widely considered to be a lesbian character, developing an intimate relationship with female jazz singer Shug Avery.
In 2019, Hamilton actor Aaron Lee Lambert shared a screenshot of Omooba’s Facebook post from 2014, in which she said: “I do not believe you can be born gay, and I do not believe homosexuality is right”, adding “Christians, we need to step up and love but also tell the truth of God’s word. I am tired of lukewarm Christianity.” Lambert asked whether the actress stood by her post, given her casting as “an LGBTQ character.”
Following widespread public criticism of Omooba, Leicester Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome released a statement in response, saying that “following careful reflection it has been decided that Seyi will no longer be involved with the production.”
The actress then launched legal action, which was due to begin last April, but was postponed due to the pandemic. Omooba dropped her tribunal against Birmingham Hippodrome, accepting that they played a “minor role” in her dismissal, but continued to sue the Leicester Theatre Trust and her agents Michael Garrett Associates Ltd (Global Artists, on the grounds of religious discrimination and a breach of contract.
Omooba was represented in the week-long hearing by the Christian Legal Centre, the legal arm of Christian Concern. Her lawyer Pavel Stroilov argued that Celie’s sexuality was ambiguous, citing Steven Spielberg’s film version as “the best known interpretation” of the character. Stroilov said: “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. It is in no way obvious and was never made clear to claimant that she was expected to play a lesbian character.”
The tribunal heard that Omooba had previously told her agents that she would not play a gay role.
However, Tom Coghlin QC, representing the Leicester Theatre Trust, said that the musical “is not the film – they are different works with a common source, which is the novel.” He argued that Omooba “didn’t check” with her director whether Celie would be interpreted “in the usually understood way, which was as a gay character.”
Coghlin added that Omooba’s stance represented a “repudiatory breach of contract”, and her dismissal was not “unwanted conduct,” since “the role that she “complains about being dismissed from is one that she would have refused to play in any event.”
Click here to read more.
Source: The Telegraph