'Color Purple' Actor Fired over Anti-LGBTQ Post is Suing... Even Though the Role Was Lesbian

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday September 30, 2019

Are homophobic remarks by public figures who are constrained by the rules and policies of their employers permissible if those remarks are taken from the Bible? Should the rights of religious people to bash others trump the rights of their targets not to be targeted and attacked simply because of innate personal characteristics such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity?

Such are the questions that surround the firings of high-profile figures like Israel Folau, the Australian rugby player who was at the top of his game when his barrage of anti-gay posts — which he attempted to justify by saying that they reflected his religious views — ended up costing him a $4 million dollar contract and his place on Australian rugby team the Wallabies.

And such, too, are the questions that come with a suit for "breach of contract" that's now been brought by stage actor Seyi Omooba, who was slated to play iconic lesbian character Celie in a British production of "The Color Purple," until a fellow actor called her out on anti-gay posts she made years earlier.

Oomba ended up being fired from then role before she had a chance to play the part. Now, she tells UK newspaper the Daily Mail, being tossed from the role despite her obvious outstanding talents has left her "heartbroken."

"If I'm unable to get back to the stage, then I feel there is no point. It's the only thing I have ever wanted since I was a young girl," the actor — who lost her agent and now says she cannot get either representation or auditions — went on to say.

Of course, another way of looking at the situation is that remarks targeting LGBTQ people do not acknowledge or celebrate their individual talents, accomplishments or potential. Rather, they smear and minimize sexual minorities, reducing their lives to a question of sex — and, oftentimes, not even considering their sexuality as a deeply human complex of romantic, emotional, and physical attractions, but, crudely, caricaturing them as a matter of mere sexual acts in which they may or may not participate (as, to be sure, heterosexuals with opposite-gender partners might also do).

But for Omooba (as for Folau, who has also filed suit against his former employer), such questions of turnabout and parity mean nothing next to a single principle: The claim of "religious persecution."

The source of the trouble is a Facebook post from 2014 in which Omooba had offered her opinions on LGBTQ people. As reported by EDGE when the story first broke last spring, remarks posted on September 18, 2014, to Omooba's Facebook page declared that LGBTQ-affirming Christians had "begun to twist the word of God," and went on to add, "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 doesn't mean it's right."

A growing body of scientific evidence contradicts the assertion that LGBTQ people are not born they way they are. Study after study has found that non-heterosexuality seemingly has roots in genetics and brain physiology. As for the decidedly non-scientific scriptural side of the debate, Biblical scholars are far less certain about the Bible's comments regarding same-sex romance, attraction, and physical intimacy than are those who point to select passages buttress anti-LGBTQ sentiments. Moreover, those who cite the Bible as a source of justification for anti-gay bigotry tend to overlook the Bible's much more frequent — and much less ambiguous — teachings with regard to divorce, a custom that heterosexuals engage in frequently and with little social or professional consequence.

When Omooba was cast as Celie - the main protagonist of "The Color Purple," who endures sexual abuse early in her life from her father, then survives marriage to an equally abusive husband, and finally finds happiness and love with another woman before living a fully independent life - Aaron Lee Lambert, star of the West end production of "Hamilton," had a question to pose. He was the one who brought attention to Omooba's 2014 post after she won the role of Celie, tweeting to Omooba:

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.

What was immediate were the consequences to Omooba's career. But the actor has not taken a path of penitence, or sought to reach a greater understanding with the LGBTQ people among her professional peers, her audience, or the community at large. Instead, Omooba has doubled down, claiming that anti-religious bias is the problem rather than her gay-bashing post.

As Omooba put it herself, in talking about how she was advised to "retract my post and apologize":

I really wanted the role but what they wanted me to do was completely against my faith. I did not want to lie just to keep a job.

The closest the actor could bring herself to acknowledging that words targeting sexual minorities can be harmful, no matter what their source, was this:

I stand by what I wrote, but had I known that it would have come to this, I would have set my account to the privacy mode.

All of which raises the question: Having made such hurtful statements and refused to tender apologies to those they hurt, and having framed both the expression and the consequences of such prejudicial language as a matter of high principle, why complain about it now?

Said Omooba:

I want to make sure no other Christian has to go through something like this.

Which, one might interpret her as saying, comes down to a matter of special rights: A blank check for self-professed Christians to say anything they want about others, as long as they can claim they are merely restating what's in the Bible.

But at what point does the religious "right" to demean others run up against the rights of the people being targeted to live free of faith-based slurs, false claims, and other forms of harassment - especially when those being defamed do not necessarily share the religious beliefs of the individual making those claims?

The debate rages on.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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