Producers Of An Award-Winning Play Asked For POC Critics & The Age Had A Tantrum About It

The Age seven methods of killing Kylie Jenner

The Age is under fire after it published an entire column tearing down a critically acclaimed play which asked for POC reviewers, instead of just sending a POC reviewer. And then the publication printed an offensive cartoon targeting two Black women along with it. It’s white fragility at its finest and there’s a lot to unpack, so let’s dive in, shall we?

The story begins with The Age‘s arts editor Elizabeth Flux, who on January 29 published a column titled: Should white critics be allowed to review this play? Its producers don’t think so.

In the take, Flux revealed The Age would not be publishing a review of the award-winning play seven methods of killing kylie jenner because its producers had the audacity to… request a person of colour review it.

You’d think The Age would have been like “okay, no worries, we’ll find a person of colour to write this up then”. Nope.

Instead, it not only refused to review the play, but then went out of its way to trash the producers in the media. Extremely normal and not at all childish behaviour!

Before we get into what Flux actually said about this though, let’s build some context.

Seven methods of killing kylie jenner is a play that explores racism, cultural appropriation, queerness, friendship and how society exploits and consumes Black bodies both online and in real life. Its plot kicks off when a Black woman finds herself at the centre of a social media storm after she calls out Kylie Jenner for co-opting Black aesthetics on Twitter.

The play was written by Jasmine Lee-Jones, a 25-year-old award-winning Black British playwright, and it focuses on the way Black women have been commodified by wider society to everyones’ benefit but their own. The Australian production stars Iolanthe and Chika Ikogwe, the latter you might recognise from Netflix’s reboot of Heartbreak High.

Given that info, a request for a critic that has some lived experience of systemic racism — or who would at least be able to engage in a more meaningful way with its race politics — makes sense, right? That way, the producers can a) hope the reviewer will do the play’s incisive racial commentary justice (something which is unfortunately rare in Australia’s extremely white media landscape) and b) uplift a marginalised voice who might otherwise not have that platform.

Flux was flummoxed by this request though, and slammed the producers for “excluding” white people from being “allowed” to write reviews on the play. Even though neither of these claims are true.

By Flux’s own account of what happened, the play’s PR initially offered a review spot (which, if you don’t work in media, means The Age was offered a free ticket for a reviewer to cover the play), but then producers Amylia Harris and Leila Enright asked if the review spot, which had already been allocated to a writer, could go to a person of colour instead. They then clarified that they would only offer The Age *free* access to the play for a POC critic. Crucially, they only withheld a free spot, not spots all together.

Does this mean white people are banned/excluded from reviewing the show? No.

At no point did Flux quote producers making claims on who is allowed to watch, engage with, cover or critique the play. They themselves are white, something that Flux pointed out scathingly only moments after she wrote that people’s skin colour shouldn’t matter. The producers didn’t “exclude” white people, they just have a requirement on who gets to watch the play for free.

Stage A Change founder Cessalee Stovall responded to Flux’s column and slammed the “fragility” it displayed after it mentioned the organisation.

“Frankly speaking, this article is dipped in, spackled with, and power washed down with so much fragility,” she wrote in an open letter on Facebook.

“Fragility that has missed the point and self-aggrandised so epically, that I am having a hard time finding the balance of Cess-splaining and truly offering a perspective that you simply have not encountered.

“The decision to request reviewers of colour was not about white people. In no way, shape, or form [was it] intended to be about what white people do and don’t have permission to do. It’s not about access for white people.”

“I think we need to have a really long think about what exclusion actually means, and further, who has actually historically been excluded from the table,” Stovall continued.

“Stage A Change defines exclusion to mean that people do not have the ability to engage, either because of bias, discrimination, processes, policies, culture or other systemic barrier[s].

“[Producers] did not exclude you. They actually asked you to be an agent of inclusion, to which The Age said no.

“You were not excluded, you simply weren’t granted access in the way you wanted it.”

Brb, screaming this from my roof top.

“In your article, you state, ‘a commitment to diversity doesn’t mean having people only critique work that matches up with their skin colour or their sexuality or their gender,’ which insinuates that the community engagement team was asking you to send a Black reviewer or a British reviewer or a lesbian reviewer,” Stovall continued.

“[This was] not the case. The ask was, send someone who may connect with the story in a way that is more nuanced that simply as an observer.”

Stovall also pointed out that Flux’s dismissal of the producers’ racial awareness because they are white was also bullshit because this didn’t take into account all the First Nations women and women of colour who contributed to their decision.

“Though Amylia Harris and Leila Enright are white women, the entire artistic and community engagement team on this production are First Nations women or women of colour. The decision on reviewers was made by a team of First Nations and Black artists based on the cultural and psychological safety of the work, the wider team of artists, and the creative.”

Obviously, Flux was read to filth. You simply cannot write a 900-word whinge about how diversity is taking away opportunities from white people and expect nothing in return. But it gets worse.

In the article’s print edition, The Age published an offensive cartoon of seven methods of killing kylie jenner leads Iolanthe and Chika Ikogwe, who had literally nothing to do with Flux or The Age‘s free ticket drama.

The illustration by Joe Benke caricaturises the two women in a way that is reminiscent of that infamously racist Serena Williams cartoon, which used imagery associated with racist mockeries of Black people in the US’ Jim Crow era. Click on the the link above if you want to learn more about racist caricatures.

Stovall slammed the cartoon as “absolutely abhorrent” and “disgusting”. (Editor’s note: Elizabeth Flux has tweeted that she had nothing to do with Benke’s cartoon that was placed alongside her article.)

If an outlet can’t handle being asked to find a person of colour to review a play about Blackness, how are you supposed to expect them to actually tackle the contents of that play itself? If even a conversation about a conversation about Blackness makes someone throw this tantrum, how TF are you supposed to trust them to handle anything deeper?

Flux can bang on all she wants about how much she does care about diversity, just not when it means white people have to pass their own mic to someone else, but all her column did is prove the producers of seven methods of killing kylie jenner right.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to remove several quotes from social media that implied that The Age doesn’t have people of colour on staff or in their freelance roster.