Actress sues theatre and agency after being sacked for citing Bible on Facebook four years earlier29 September 2019 Issued by: Christian Legal Centre
A Christian West End actress who was removed from a lead role in a musical for a four-year-old Facebook post that cited the Bible, is set to take a theatre and her agency to court for breach of contract and for anti-Christian discrimination.
The case, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, raises the question of whether Bible-believing Christians have the freedom to hold and express mainstream Biblical views in public, without fear of losing their livelihoods. It also raises the issue of whether, as a society, we are allowed to hold and express opinions and interpretations of art, literature and drama in ways that are contrary to LGBT ideology.
Given lead role in The Color Purple
On 14 March 2019, Miss Seyi Omooba, 25, from East London, had been given a lead role as Celie in Leicester Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome’s co-production of the award-winning musical The Color Purple, based on Alice Walker’s classic American novel. The casting was announced the same day that Miss Omooba went with her father, Pastor Ade Omooba, an eminent international Christian campaigner and Christian Concern’s co-founder, to Buckingham Palace to receive his MBE.
Miss Omooba had developed her raw talent from a young age singing gospel in church and studying performing arts at Anglia Ruskin University. She had already built up a portfolio of performances, among them parts in Hadestown at the National Theatre, Little Shop of Horrors, Spring Awakening, and had played the role of Nettie in the Cadogan Hall production of The Color Purple.
In a review of her full debut in the West End musical, Ragtime, Miss Omooba was described as: “jaw-droppingly good, and her ferocious gospel vocals…pin you to your seat. This is her professional debut, and she’s someone to watch.” In the production of A Color Purple at Cadogan Hall, Miss Omooba’s depiction of the character of Nettie was described as capturing the “very heart of her character.
Facebook post from 2014
After the cast was announced, however, on 15 March, Miss Omooba was tagged on Twitter by another West End performer, Aaron Lee Lambert , who is not known to her. With a screenshot of a Facebook post that Miss Omooba had posted four-and-half-years ago on 18 September 2014, Mr Lambert wrote:
“@seyiomooba Do you still stand by this post? Or are you happy to remain a hypocrite? Seeing as you’ve now been announced to be playing an LGBTQ character, I think you owe your LGBTQ peers an explanation. Immediately.”
In September 2014, Miss Omooba was a 20-year-old student whose acting career had not even started. She regularly posts about her faith online without any issue, and in this post had written on her personal Facebook page, in the context of the government introducing same-sex marriage legislation, that:
“Some Christians have completely misconceived the issue of Homosexuality, they have begun to twist the word of God. It is clearly evident in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 what the Bible says on this matter. I do not believe you can be born gay, and I do not believe homosexual practice is right, though the law of this land has made it legal doesn’t mean it is right. I do believe that everyone sins and falls into temptation but it’s by the asking of forgiveness, repentance and the grace of God that we overcome and live how God ordained us to. Which is that a man should leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24. God loves everyone, just because He doesn’t agree with your decisions doesn’t mean He doesn’t love you. Christians we need to step up and love but also tell the truth of God’s word. I am tired of lukewarm Christianity, be inspired to stand up for what you believe and the truth #our God is three in one #God (Father) #Jesus Christ (Son) #Holy Spirit.”
Miss Omooba received the tweet from Mr Lambert while supporting a grieving friend, and despite being deeply shocked and intimidated, refused to be drawn into an online discussion on the issue.
Called a nigger for citing the Bible
Calls for Miss Omooba to be removed from the cast followed, however, as well as online abuse which included her being called a ‘nigger.’
Miss Omooba, who visibly prays before each show and wears a ‘Not Ashamed’ of the Gospel wristband, had accepted the lead role over Celie after originally auditioning for the character of Nettie, and disagrees with the interpretation that Celie is a lesbian character.
The character of Celie in The Color Purple has intrigued readers and critics since it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 after its publication the previous year. Set in the Deep South of the US, it’s main character, Celie, leads a life of immense struggle at the hands of men, until she briefly finds comfort and friendship with another woman. It was made into a Hollywood film in 1985 and starred Whoopi Goldberg, who described the film and the character of Celie as:
“Not really about feminism, or lesbianism, despite the fact that Celie finds out about love and tenderness from another woman….It has nothing to do with lesbianism. It has to do with, her eyes are opened, now she understands.”
Steven Spielberg, who directed the film, was pressed in 2011 on whether today he would make the ‘kiss’ scene in the film more explicit, but he said: “I wouldn’t, no. That kiss is consistent with the tonality, from beginning to end, of The Color Purple that I adapted.”
On 15 March, Miss Omooba received a call from her agency, Global Artists, telling her that pressure was mounting for her to be removed from the show because of her views. She was told that only through retracting the comments and publicly apologising would she be able to continue under their management, which she refused to do.
Fake news article led to contract termination
Leicester Curve Theatre and the Birmingham Hippodrome then released a statement on 21 March which led to Miss Omooba’s contract being terminated. The theatres claimed in their statement that: “The play and production are seeking to promote freedom and independence and to challenge views, including the view that homosexuality is a sin.”
That same day, Miss Omooba was now told by her agency “not to make public comment at this point”, without informing and consulting them, which Miss Omooba agreed to do. However, on the 24 March, a blogger based in Nigeria published a fake news article on the story which included a fake quote from Ms Omooba made “through her publicist”, saying that homosexuality is an aberration and that she stood by her Facebook post from 2014. The blogger wrote clearly that the article was “clearly satirical and should not to be taken seriously.”
Nonetheless, this article was enough for the agency to send Miss Omooba a brief email telling her that she would now be released from their services, and the news appeared in the media within hours – before Miss Omooba had the opportunity to explain that the article had nothing to do with her, which she was only able to do the following day. Even though Miss Omooba chased the agency for a response, it was not until 18 April that they responded saying their decision was final as their confidence in her had been “irretrievably eroded.” This was despite Miss Omooba being entitled to two months’ notice.
Told to abandon entire upbringing
Since then Miss Omooba has tried to find work in the theatre profession but appears to have been blacklisted. One agency she approached for roles even told her that: “Homophobia is illegal. It is not a matter of faith” and added that the agency would help her once she came “to her senses on this matter” and when she had “got away from the ideologies of your entire upbringing.”
The theatre has attempted to avert Miss Omooba’s lawsuit by offering to pay her the full wages she would have received for playing in the performance. However, Miss Omooba has rejected that offer, and will ask the Employment Tribunal for a formal and public ruling that the theatre has acted unlawfully and discriminated against her because of her Christian beliefs.
Told to choose between her beliefs or career
Miss Omooba said: “When I received the email that I was going to be dropped from the cast, I was heartbroken. The theatre has offered me a financial settlement, but I am not in this for the money. For me it’s not about the money or my face – it was about telling and expressing Celie’s story, as I interpret it as a performer, because that is what I love to do.
“For me, Celie is a complex character. I do not think it is possible to clearly define that she is a ‘Christian’ or a ‘lesbian.’ Celie has to grow up so fast, but in her mind she is just a child trying to navigate through and overcome the many trials and tribulations that life throws at her.
“The people who know me, know that I have no hatred as a result of my faith; only love.Yet the theatre and the agency gave me the choice of either losing my career or renouncing my faith. I could not do this, not even to save the career that means so much to me.
“I want our society to be more open to both sides of the debate and to accept that many Christians do not believe homosexual practice is right. Even though there are differences in belief, we need to be more loving to each other, we need to understand each other’s struggles – that is what my post in September 2014 was all about. No one should be treated as I have been because of expressing these beliefs.”
Blacklisted for expressing what the Bible says
Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “What happened to Seyi Omooba was cruel and has damaged the career of a highly talented young artist for a Facebook post she had made four years ago.
“Here you have a young Christian woman, with what critics have described as having a ‘ferocious’ talent, being sacked and blacklisted for expressing what the Bible says about homosexual practice, the need for forgiveness and God’s love for all humanity. This is another in a string of cases involving Christians being hounded out of their careers because they love Jesus.
“The presence of a homosexuality theme in the play is a very poor excuse for discriminating against a Christian actress. If we were talking about a lesbian actress playing a Christian character, nobody would dare to suggest that her sexual lifestyle would make her unsuitable, and that you could fire her without breaking the law.
“This story sends a chilling message to Christians, not only in the theatre profession but across our society, that if you express and hold mainstream Biblical views, you will be punished and will lose your career if you do not immediately renounce your beliefs.
“This cannot go unchallenged and we are determined to fight for justice in this case.”