As modern conversations about cultural representation expand and evolve, whitewashing continues to be a hot topic. The racist phenomenon, in which a white actor is cast to play a person of color, stretches from The Birth of a Nation through Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to last year’s megaflop Ghost in the Shell. On Monday, Broadway actress Sierra Boggess decided not to join that offensive legacy when she withdrew from a West Side Story concert performance in which she would play Maria.
Four days ago announcements stated that Boggess, who got her start as Ariel in Broadway’s The Little Mermaid in 2007 before joining the casts of Phantom of the Opera and School of Rock, would play Maria in a Royal Albert Hall concert performance of West Side Story.
Boggess said in 2015 that although Maria was a “dream role” she was glad she had played in past, she would not again, because “I’m not Puerto Rican.” (The part was played in the 1961 movie by Natalie Wood, but casting calls for Steven Spielberg’s upcoming remake have emphasized the characters’ ethnic backgrounds.) In a statement published to her Facebook page, Boggess says she signed onto the Royal Albert Hall event “Because it was a concert presentation and not the show proper.” But after public criticism, she has withdrawn.
“After much reflection, I’ve realized that if I were to do this concert, it would once again deny Latinas the opportunity to sing this score, as well as deny the IMPORTANCE of seeing themselves represented onstage,” Boggess wrote. “And that would be a huge mistake.”
Her full statement is as follows: