A scene from “Im Hussein: Double Trouble,” from video posted to Youtube.

UPDATE: Surrey theatre cancels play over blackface criticism

‘Im Hussein: Double Trouble’ comedy production was scheduled for Surrey’s Bell theatre for Nov. 2

The Surrey stop for a play that uses blackface has been cancelled.

A group called No Blackface Vancouver was pushing operators of Surrey’s Bell Performing Arts Centre to cancel a touring show they say is racist.

Im Hussein: Double Trouble was scheduled to be performed at the Bell theatre, which is operated by the Surrey school district, on Saturday, Nov. 2.

The Bell’s website now states the show has been cancelled and people who have bought tickets to the event will be refunded.

Aslam Bulbulia, the spokesperson for No Blackface Vancouver, said he hopes the cancellation of the show is “an opportunity for people involved to take some pause and recognize what some of the issues were with the performance.”

He said he hopes the organizers don’t just move on to the next performance, but instead use this as an “opportunity and a learning moment for them in terms of what racism looks like and the use of blackface, even if they were trying to use it as a teaching tool, that it’s not appropriate to do so.”

Ritinder Matthew, Surrey Schools spokesperson, told the Now-Leader the issue was brought to the district’s attention Friday morning (Nov. 1).

Matthew said the district “does not condone racism and takes matters of this nature very seriously,” and looked at the situation “very carefully and have decided to cancel the production.”

She said the district has been in touch with the play’s organizers and they are aware of the decision.

On Friday, the Now-Leader received an emailed press release from No Blackface Vancouver.

“It has come to this group’s attention that the Bell Performing Arts Centre will host a play titled “Im Hussein Double Trouble” on Nov 2nd, 2019 at 8pm,” the release says. “We are organizing to request that Metro Vancouver communities move quickly to ensure that this play is not staged due to its clearly advertised use of: blackface; the perpetuation of racist, anti-Black, anti-African (anti-Nigerian) and Orientalist narratives and tropes; and the inappropriate use of stereotypically exaggerated African and Chinese costume.”

A spokesperson for the group, Aslam Bulbulia, was contacted by the Now-Leader on Friday morning.

Bulbulia said he has not seen the theatre production, but saw a trailer on the show’s website.

“It’s pretty clear that it shows blackface,” said Bulbulia.

On the Bell theatre website, the Double Trouble show description says “A Nigerian scammer promises Im Hussein and her husband Abou Hussein $1.5 million, with strings attached. The two fall for the swindle and deplete their savings account to comply. Confusion reigns when a man arrives with a shocking claim. Then the authorities come to investigate. And yet another man shows up, adding to the carnival of chaos, laced generously with Im Hussein’s signature comedic input.”

Bulbulia said the group has tried contacting Bell theatre management and also Surrey Schools, operators of the theatre, in an attempt to have the show cancelled in Surrey.

“We’re hoping that through those channels that it is stopped from being performed,” he said. “Up until now we’re still waiting to hear back from those we’ve reached out to.”

The group has launched a website, noblackfacevancouver.com.

“As a multicultural Metro Vancouver population, we recognize the importance of hosting diverse artistic productions,” says a post on the website. “However, the Im Hussein & Ajyal Theatrical Group website and social media pages for ‘Im Hussein Double Trouble’ has a clear track record of using blackface and culturally appropriated traditional costumes, which is unacceptable and reinforces harmful racial hierarchies. It is clear that any attempt by the Group to portray racism in a humorous light or satirical light falls short of any productive anti-racist work that may be intended and, in fact, minimizes the harmful impacts and forms of violence that directly target our racialized communities.”

Bell theatre management did not immediately respond to the Now-Leader’s request for comment Friday morning.

The Im Hussein website shows a “Vancouver” date on Nov. 2 as part of a fall 2019 tour, with stops in Miami, Chicago, Edmonton, Montreal and other cities.

On Facebook, the central character Im Hussein is described as “the brainchild of Mr. Najee Mondalek” and AJYAL Theatrical Group: “Pegged as the first Arab-American theatre company, AJYAL has toured all over The United States, Canada, Australia and the Middle East inviting us to follow along as Im Hussein and her family navigate life in America, humanizing the Arab experience through comedy.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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