More than 12,000 people have signed a petition led by Mya Bishop, a second-year student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, calling to stop the continuation of “Emmett Till, A New American Opera,” adapted from a play based on the lynching of the Chicago teen. The production’s world premiere is set to take place on campus at the Gerald W. Lynch Theatre this week.
“I started this petition because Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and all the other Black children who have been killed by anti-Black racists are human beings,” Bishop told PIX11 News. “They deserve for their stories to center them and should not be used to explore white alliedness, especially through a fictional lens.”
The play follows Roane Taylor, a white woman who “is against Jim Crow laws, segregation and the racial inequality that she sees around her but remains silent.” Although a fictional character, Taylor engages with the players connected to Till’s horrific killing, including his mother Mamie Till and the white woman who alleged that he whistled at her, Carolyn Bryant.
In the petition’s description, Bishop claimed playwright Clare Coss “has creatively centered her white guilt by using this play to make the racially motivated brutal torture and murder of a 14-year-old child about her white self and her white feelings.”
Elsewhere the note stated that “Tickets from this play range from 20 to 1000 dollars, allowing for profit to be made from the tragic torture and murder of a child whose perpetrators still haven’t faced any consequences.”
Bishop added, “Of course, if any profit were to be made, it would only be appropriate for that profit to be given to the family of Emmett Till. However, even if the profit was turned over to them, it wouldn’t make the play any less disrespectful.”
Cross denied accusations that the play was “white-centered.” telling the station, “Mamie Till is the main character. I do have a white character who, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, represents the silent people who care, and that’s the greatest tragedy.”
During their Zoom interview this week, Mary D. Watkins, who composed the music for the show and is Black, told the news outlet that critics were prematurely rushing to judgment. “Nobody has seen this opera, and people are just assuming, and no one has any information,” Watkins said. “They don’t know what Clare was thinking and who she was. We have worked on this a long time, and they’re wrong. I don’t know what else to say about it. they’re wrong.”
“Emmett Till, A New American Opera” will premiere on Wednesday, March 23, to a sold-out crowd with a few encore tickets left.