Christian actress, 26, suing theatre for £128,000 after being axed from lead role in The Colour Purple over ‘homophobic’ Facebook post did not tell directors about ‘secret red line’ that she wouldn’t play a gay character, tribunal hears
- Seyi Omooba, 26, is suing the theatre trust for religious discrimination
- She accepted role of Celie in The Colour Purple – sometimes interpreted as gay
- Added that she had not read the full script for the stage adaptation
A Christian actress who is suing a theatre for £128,000 after she was fired for making a ‘homophobic’ Facebook post didn’t tell directors about her ‘secret red line’ that she wouldn’t play a gay character, an employment tribunal has heard.
Seyi Omooba, 26, is suing a theatre trust and her former agents for religious discrimination and breach of contract after being dropped as the lead of Celie in a stage production of The Colour Purple in 2019.
The devoutly religious performer had told her agents she would not play a gay role or do sexually explicit scenes, a virtual Central London Employment Tribunal has heard.
But she told the hearing on Tuesday that she did not tell show directors about her stance because she was not explicitly informed it would be a lesbian role and that was not her understanding of the character.
Miss Omooba is claiming discrimination and breach of contract over her sudden sacking
She added that she had not read the full script for the stage adaptation of Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer prize-winning novel despite being cast as the lead.
Celie is often read as having a lesbian sexual orientation, and that interpretation was intended for this particular production at the Leicester Curve Theatre, the tribunal heard.
Ms Omooba was sent the script in November 2018 and accepted the lead role in January 2019 despite auditioning for another part.
Casting was announced in mid-March 2019 with rehearsals due to start in late May, with Ms Omooba saying she would ‘probably’ have read the full script around the end of May.
But Tom Coghlin QC, for the Leicester Theatre Trust, said the Leicester Curve theatre would have been left ‘high and dry’ because Ms Omooba would have pulled out after learning of the lesbian portrayal.
But she resisted the suggestion, replying: ‘That’s why you have covers and understudies in shows.’
Actor Aaron Lee Lambert, a Hamilton star, shared a Facebook post she wrote seven years ago
Mr Coghlin said: ‘We know during the course of rehearsals, we’ve agreed it would have become clear you couldn’t have carried on with the part and would have abandoned the production.
‘The rehearsal process began May 28 with the first public performance I think I’m right in saying on June 20.
‘You would wait before reading the script to find out what it said about Celie, a part whom you knew one interpretation of is that she was a lesbian, you weren’t going to read that script until the time of rehearsals, four weeks before the first performance, in circumstances where you knew there was a possibility you would have to pull out.
‘You would have left the theatre high and dry wouldn’t you?’
He suggested it was an ‘unbelievably unprofessional approach to take’.
Ms Omooba said: ‘That’s your assumption. In so many instances in film, television, theatre, people pull out and people find a way to make it work.
Mr Lambert put the Facebook post on Twitter
‘You’re acting like these things don’t happen so often. It would have happened … we would have found a way.’
Mr Coghlin said she did not share her ‘secret red line’ with producers, adding: ‘We’ve agreed you had a red line, your position was you wouldn’t play Celie if she was to be played as a lesbian, that’s a red line and you didn’t share it with the producers, you kept it secret.’
Ms Omooba said: ‘No because my interpretation was I didn’t believe she was. I didn’t feel like I needed to.
‘I didn’t believe that that’s what this production was going to be.’
She has instructed lawyers to file for breach of contract against the Curve Theatre in Leicester, pictured above, and her former agents, Michael Garrett Associates
The Colour Purple tells the story of Celie, an impoverished and abused African-American woman in the US deep south in the 1930s.
As the story progresses, she develops an intimate relationship with a female blues singer called Shug Avery.
Ms Omooba’s 2014 Facebook post read: ‘I do not believe you can be born gay and I do not believe homosexuality is right, though the law of this land has made it legal it doesn’t make it right.’
It caused an uproar after being unearthed and tweeted by Hamilton actor Aaron Lee Lambert, who attacked Ms Omooba as a ‘hypocrite’ for acting in the Colour Purple.
Ms Omooba is suing the Leicester Theatre Trust and her agents Michael Garrett Associates Ltd (Global Artists).
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