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Sacked Christian actress begins legal battle linked to 'homophobic' comments

by Press Association
Seyi Christian Concern.JPG - Banner image

A Christian actress axed from a play for posting alleged homophobic remarks online would have refused to play the role from which she was subsequently dismissed, an employment tribunal has heard.

Seyi Omooba, 26, was due to play the lead of Celie in a production of The Colour Purple at the Birmingham Hippodrome in 2019, but she was dropped after comments she made online in 2014 came to light.

The sexuality of Celie, who is often read as having a lesbian relationship, is ambiguous and open to interpretation, say lawyers for Ms Omooba.

The actress, from east London, is suing the Leicester Theatre Trust and her agents Michael Garrett Associates Ltd (Global Artists) for around £128,000 over the dismissal, claiming religious discrimination and a breach of contract.

The 2014 Facebook post read: "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 it doesn't make it right."

On Monday during a virtual hearing of the Central London Employment Tribunal, it emerged that Ms Omooba had previously told her agents she would refuse to play a gay character.

But her lawyers say she did not understand Celie to be a lesbian, that the character's sexuality was ambiguous, and that Ms Omooba was not explicitly told she would have to play a gay role.

Her representative, Pavel Stroilov, said: "The best known interpretation is the film by Steven Spielberg.

"In the film the lesbian theme is not present at all, there is one kiss between the female characters which can be interpreted in all sorts of ways.

"It is in no way obvious and was never made clear to claimant that she was expected to play a lesbian character. She was never asked explicitly to play this character as a lesbian.

"It's, with respect, absurd to suggest it's for an employee, an actor, to go and inquire with an employer whether or not they interpret this play differently from Steven Spielberg."

Tom Coghlin QC, for the Leicester Theatre Trust, suggested Ms Omooba's position amounted to "repudiatory breach of contract" and meant her dismissal was not "unwanted conduct".

He told the hearing: "The role that she complains about being dismissed from is one that she would have refused to play in any event.

"Her choice was to resign or be dismissed and she chose to be dismissed.

"We say quite simply that the claimant took the role of Celie when she knew or should have realised there was at least a significant likelihood that she would refuse to play that role.

"She didn't check with the responders or director whether Celie would be interpreted in the usually understood, way which was as a gay character.

"The musical is not the film, they are different works with a common source, which is the novel."

The Colour Purple is a Pulitzer prize-winning novel written by Alice Walker in 1982.

In an open letter published in October 2019 after the claim was brought, the novelist wrote that Celie was based on her grandmother.

She wrote: "It is safe to say, after a frightful life serving and obeying abusive men, who raped in place of 'making love' my grandmother, like Celie, was not attracted to men.

"She was, in fact, very drawn to my grandfather's lover, a beautiful woman who was kind to her, the only grown person who ever seemed to notice how remarkable and creative she was."

Ms Omooba is supported in her claim by campaigning group Christian Concern.

The group said the case "will expose the mechanisms of censorship at the heart of the theatre industry", adding that "any dissenting views against LGBT ideology, especially Christian beliefs, are currently incompatible with a theatrical career".

Ms Omooba originally auditioned for another part, that of Nettie, which she had already performed in another production of the Colour Purple, but was offered the lead role of Celie after her audition, said the group.

Witnesses are due to begin giving evidence on Tuesday, beginning with Ms Omooba's father, pastor Ade Omooba.

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