A Christian West End actress, Seyi Omooba, was removed from a leading role in a musical and dropped from her agency for a Facebook post citing the Bible over four years earlier.
With help from the Christian Legal Centre, she is launching a legal challenge of the theatre and the agency. The case raised the question of whether Christians have the freedom to hold and express Biblical mainstream views in public.
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.
Raw God-given talent
Seyi had developed her raw, God-given talent from a young age singing gospel in church and studying performing arts at Anglia Ruskin University.
On 14 March 2019, Seyi was given the lead role as Celie in a production of the award-winning musical The Color Purple, based on Alice Walker’s classic American novel.
The casting was announced on the same day that Seyi went with her father, Pastor Ade Omooba (Christian Concern’s co-founder), to Buckingham Palace to receive his MBE.
After the cast was announced, however, Seyi was tagged on Twitter by another West End performer who criticised her for a Facebook post that Seyi had posted four-and-half-years ago.
Aaron Lee 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.”
The post he was referring to read:
“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.”
Online abuse for citing the Bible
At the time of receiving the post, Seyi was supporting a grieving friend and didn’t want to get drawn into a debate. Nevertheless, Seyi received online abuse, including racial slurs, and calls for her to be removed from the cast.
Seyi, who visibly prays before each show and wears a ‘Not Ashamed’ wristband, said she had accepted the lead role after a week of prayer, as she had originally auditioned for the character of Nettie and disagrees with the interpretation that Celie is a lesbian character.
Whoopi Goldberg, who played the lead role in the 1985 movie adaptation, 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.”
Dropped by the agency after fake quote
On 15 March, Seyi 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.
Seyi was told by her agency “not to make public comment at this point”, which Seyi agreed to do. But on the 24 March, a blogger based in Nigeria, published an article on the story that included a fake quote from Seyi, purpotedly made “through her publicist”.
Despite the article being obviously fake, Seyi’s agency told her that she would now be released from their services, and the news appeared in the media within hours – before Seyi had the opportunity to explain that the article had nothing to do with her. Even though Seyi 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.”
Told to renounce her faith or lose career
Since being released by the agency, Seyi has tried to find work in theatre but appears to have been blacklisted. One agency she approached for roles 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”.
Seyi said: “When I received the email that I was going to be dropped from the cast, I was heartbroken. The agency told me that I would receive financial compensation, 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.
“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 I love.
“As a result of my case, 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.”
Hounded out for loving Jesus
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 earlier.
“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 industry 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.”
Please pray for Seyi, her family and our legal team as they take this case forward.
Find out more about Seyi Omooba