A scene from the comedy play “Im Hussein: Double Trouble,” as shown in video posted to imhussein.com.

Comedy cancelled in Surrey for use of ‘blackface’ caught in misunderstanding

Touring production ‘Im Hussein: Double Trouble’ rescheduled for March date at Bell theatre

A touring theatre show cancelled in Surrey last fall for its apparent use of “blackface” is set to return to the city this spring.

Turns out, in something of a misunderstanding, no character is shown in dark makeup in the current production of Im Hussein: Double Trouble, which has been re-scheduled at Surrey’s Bell Performing Arts Centre for the night of March 21.

The comedy, produced by Michigan-based Ajyal Theatrical Group, has toured across Canada, the U.S. and Australia over the past two years. The Surrey show last Nov. 2 was the only date to have been cancelled, according to Aziz Charabaty, director of the show and manager of the theatre company.

A day before the planned show time last November, a group called No Blackface Vancouver emailed its concerns about the production to Vancouver-area news outlets. The resulting publicity led Surrey Schools, operators of the Bell theatre, to cancel the show there, due to concerns about racism.

• READ MORE, from Nov. 2019: Surrey theatre cancels play over blackface criticism.

Later, a joint statement from No Blackface Vancouver and Ajyal Theatrical Group was posted to the website noblackfacevancouver.com, saying the theatre company “apologizes for the impact of using blackface” in the show “and will not use blackface in any of its future productions.”

The statement said Ajyal stopped using blackface onstage after April 2018, but online photos and videos of the actor in blackface had been taken prior to that date.

“Regretfully, as ‘Double Trouble – Im Hussein’ continued its tour, Ajyal failed to remove blackface from its promotional materials,” the statement reads. “The Ajyal Theatrical Group appreciates this opportunity to deepen their understanding and further their commitment to promote an end to racism.”

(story continues below video)

Seven actors are featured in the show, performed in both Arabic and English. Tickets for the “Vancouver” date in Surrey can be purchased at a link posted to imhussein.com.

Contacted by the Now-Leader, Charabaty said in casting for the show in March of 2018, the company “couldn’t find an actor to portray a character who is fluent in Arabic and English and who was also darker in skin,” for a specific role.

“We found this Lebanese-American guy, but the problem was when we did the shooting for the show we used darker makeup for his skin, and unfortunately that trailer was circulating around,” Charabaty said. “But after we did that, one of the technicians at a theatre here in Michigan phoned us saying this could be offensive for some people, because it seemed blackface has a very bad history in North America.

“For us Middle Easterners, we’re not familiar with that – it’s not considered offensive for us because we didn’t go through what black people went through here in North America,” Charabaty added, “and so we stopped using dark makeup on stage. But our mistake was that we kept the show trailer on the website, because we shot the play one time and it then circulated around.”

Charabaty said the character in question is not a black person, but a man of Lebanese-Liberian descent, in a plot that involves mistaken identity.

“There isn’t even a black character in the show,” Charabaty said, “it’s only that some of the characters think it’s a black person coming to give them money in this whole email scam. There’s a lot this kind of confusion in the show and side stories, and it’s very funny, sold-out everywhere.”

The show stars Najee Mondalek, who created the Im Hussein character in the 1990s and has since been featured in several comedies produced by the Ajyal theatre company. “He’s a very famous character, an Arabic version of, if you want, Dame Edna,” Charabaty said.

The cancellation of the tour’s Surrey date last fall was frustrating for the theatre company, he said.

“I understand that, because it’s at a school and I know what happened with the blackface of the prime minister of Canada some months ago,” Charabaty said. “The timing was bad, and unfortunately they cancelled the show but then they realized afterward that that was a mistake, once we told them this video was shot a long time ago. They jumped to a conclusion that was not there.

“Now they are rescheduling, have agreed to reschedule after looking at all of the materials,” Charabaty continued. “It’s all very unfortunate because, first of all, the reputation of the group suffered, and we were getting threat messages, all of that, and we also lost a lot of money because we had to reschedule.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram and follow Tom on Twitter

Arts and EntertainmentSurreyTheatre

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

LETTER: Langley peace advocates call on Canada to stop exporting weapons of war

Ninety per cent of casualities from armaments are civilians, two local residents say

Fundraising during a pandemic: how Langley’s Driedger Farms handled it

Second annual event for Langley Hospice raised $3,500

LETTER: Speeders have Fort Langley resident concerned about safety

Letter writer says it’s only a matter of time before something really bad happens if change isn’t made

Vancouver Giants co-owner Michael Bublé to receive Order of B.C.

Canadian artist joined ownership group in December 2008

Real estate sales spike in Langley in July

People are busy buying and selling properties again

B.C. records 30-50 new COVID-19 cases a day over weekend, no new deaths

Many of those testing positive were identified by contact tracing for being linked to other confirmed infections

Five B.C. First Nations call out Canada for ‘discriminatory’ food fish practices

West Coast nations say government ignoring court-won right to chinook and coho

Salmon arrive in larger numbers at Big Bar landslide

Arrival follows historic hihg-water levels that halted migration runs

B.C. marine ecologist wants Canada to sink its teeth into shark protection

Gulf Islands scientist says top predator under shocking threat from human behaviour

Rent-relief program becomes new front in fight between Liberals, opposition

Opposition trying to draw parallels between decision to have Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. run program and the WE controversy

Oh baby, what a birthday gift: $2.8M raised to help Surrey boy with rare disease

‘We are very thankful to everybody,’ Aryan Deol’s father says

Ottawa sets minimum unemployment rate at 13.1% for EI calculation

Statistics Canada says the unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent in July

$45K in donations received after couple’s sudden death in Tulameen

Sarah MacDermid, 31, and Casey Bussiere, 37, died August long weekend

Most Read