Hillsborough HS cancels play because it used to be called ‘Ten Little N****rs’
HILLSBOROUGH — The school district is dropping its already-cast fall production of Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" over concerns the play, in an earlier incarnation, had a racially charged name.
According to a letter Michael F. Callahan, district supervisor of visual and performing arts for the district, wrote to parents, the "piece was printed under a title containing a racial slur" when it was printed in England in the 1930s.
That appears to be a reference to the book on which the play is based — originally titled "Ten Little N****rs" An American edition was published shortly after under the name "And Then There Were None," with references to the nursery rhyme "Ten Little Indians." The play has been performed under several titles.
"Having read the play, I can tell you that there is no adverse content in the current edition," Callahan said.
Callahan said that "the students were at no time subject to any sort of objectionable content.
The district is replacing the fall production with "Almost, Maine." Students already cast in the Agatha Christie play would go directly to the callback phase of casting, he said.
Callahan said the original title "raised strong concerns."
"With all school programming, it is our goal to be inclusive and not exclusive," he said. "The roots of the original title bring about sentiments that are not inclusive and certainly do not embrace the ideals of the 'hate has no home here' signs which hang in various places in the school," he wrote."
A parent who asked her name not be used to protect her child's privacy, called the original play "One of Agatha Christie's greatest works."
"In my opinion, its been made into a big deal," the parent said. "The administration giving into it has been a bigger deal."
The parent said students at the school are already exposed to material that could be considered much more offensive than the play. She said that includes "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," which includes references to the same N-word, as required reading.
"In my opinion they opened up a can of worms to anyone complaining about anything," the parent said.
"And Then There Were None" has been performed by other area high schools in recent years; Franklin Township did the play last year.
According to Fox News the play was nearly cancelled at an Ohio school 10 years ago, but that decision was ultimately reversed and the show went on.
"We need to move forward," Superintendent Mike Taylor said in a statement to Fox at the time. "I believe the best way forward is to allow the performance of the play to occur while using it as a learning vehicle."
A community member named Charmion Young posted on Facebook on September 15 about the show.
"With deep disappointment it saddens to announce the Hillsborough High school (the town in which I live is presenting a play that used to be titled 10 Little N******! What do yall think about that???? Bcuz im pissed," she wrote.
Later in the post, she said she went to a meeting of the Board of Education where she spoke to the assistant superintendent, and later got a phone call from the principal.
"Basically Hillsborough educators feel since it was rewritten removing "n*****" and the title was changed it's 'socially acceptable,'" she said.
New Jersey 101.5 has not yet been able to reach Young.
The parent who spoke to New Jersey 101.5 said the replacement play could also be subject to complaints as there is a homosexual couple involved in the plot.
"If you look at any theater there's always something that can be objectionable to someone," the parent said.
The district has not yet returned multiple messages seeking comment.
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com