Black Opera Alliance Denounces ‘Emmett Till, The Opera’ for Centering White Perspective

By David Salazar

Black Opera Alliance has denounced the upcoming production of “Emmett Till, The Opera.”

In an Instagram post, the organization lamented the fact that the tragedy, which saw 14-year-old boy Emmett Till lynched by two white men in Mississippi back in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white women, would be portrayed from the perspective of a white person. While the opera is composed by a black composer, Mary Watkins, its libretto is written by a white woman, Clare Coss. The main character in the opera is Roanne Taylor, a fictional white school teacher who, while against the Jim Crow laws and segregation, remains silent.

“The Black Opera Alliance empathizes with and supports the Black artists and producers involved in the upcoming production of ‘Emmett Till, The Opera,’ but we denounce the telling of this historic story by a white woman and from a white vantage point. It is time for Black creators to be given opportunities to expand the operatic canon with authentic storytelling from our own perspective,” the organization posted. “Carolyn Bryant (the white woman who falsely accused Emmett Till) still walks free, and now she can walk into a theater and see the story of the lie she got away with–through the eyes of a fictional, fellow white woman.

“While we feel for the Black people involved in this opera, we do not support the rehashing of Black trauma for white entertainment. By centering a white character in a story of Black trauma, the librettist, Clare Coss takes an experience she has no claim to and centers whiteness. White saviorism is not allyship, it is violence, and we condemn it. It is time for Black joy in opera, Black love in opera, Black triumph in opera, from Black perspectives, and we will continue to work for that progress.”

The opera is set to make its premiere on March 23, 2022 at John Hay College’s Gerald W. Lynch Theater.