Actress pulls out of West Side Story after ‘whitewashing’ allegations

An actress has pulled out of a BBC Proms performance of West Side Story after the broadcaster was accused of ‘whitewashing’ by casting the white star in a Latina role.

American musical theatre performer Sierra Boggess had been cast as Maria, a Puerto Rican character, in the concert version of the Leonard Bernstein musical.

But after the details were announced last week, the BBC was criticised for not giving the role to a Latina actress.

One accused Miss Boggess, 35, of ‘stealing’ the role – which was famously played by US actress Natalie Wood in the 1961 film – from women of colour, while another said: ‘Step back. This is not your story to tell.’

American actress Sierra Boggess in the role of Christine Daae during a Phantom of the Opera production at the Royal Albert Hall

Now Miss Boggess has announced she has stepped down from the role following the ‘miscasting’ because she did not want to ‘deny Latinas the opportunity’ to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in August.

Writing on Facebook, she said: ‘After much reflection, I’ve realised that if I were to do this concert, it would once again deny Latinas the opportunity to sing this score, as well as deny the importance of seeing themselves represented onstage. And that would be a huge mistake.’

The performer said that since the casting announcement last Thursday she had had several discussions about how it was crucial ‘to not perpetuate the miscasting of this show’.

She said: ‘I apologise for not coming to this realisation sooner and as an artist, I must ask myself how I can best serve the world, and in this case my choice is clearer than ever: To step aside and allow an opportunity to correct a wrong that has been done for years with this show in particular. I have therefore withdrawn myself from this concert and I look forward to continuing to be a voice for change in our community and our world.’

The role of Maria was famously played by US actress Natalie Wood in the 1961 film version of the play

The role of Maria was famously played by US actress Natalie Wood in the 1961 film version of the play

A BBC spokesman said last night: ‘We respect Sierra’s decision to withdraw from West Side Story at the BBC Proms this year and will announce her replacement in due course.’

Last month the BBC was embroiled in another row over casting when producers were accused of ‘blackwashing’ the historical drama Troy: Fall Of A City by casting black actors in certain roles.

The eight-part series, a joint venture by the BBC and Netflix, was based on the tale of the Trojan war from Homer’s ancient Greek epic poem The Iliad.

Some viewers went on Twitter to criticise the casting of actors Hakeem Kae-Kazim as Zeus and David Gyasi as Achilles, citing historical inaccuracy.

One wrote that ‘Achilles was a blond-haired blue-eyed Greek, Zeus was not black’.

Mr Kae-Kazim defended the casting decisions, telling the Daily Express: ‘In ancient times the borders were open and people travelled freely. The Greeks themselves would have been a myriad of shades from light to very dark.’