Aboriginal performers and writers have taken to social media to express their anger over the decision by the producer of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Musical to cut the sole Aboriginal character from the production after claiming it was too difficult to find an actor.
Australian producer Garry McQuinn was attending the opening of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Musical, based on the popular 1994 film, in New Zealand on Friday when he told Maori Television that, "Frankly we cut it [the Aboriginal character] because we were somewhat embarrassed."
One of the most iconic scenes in the original film featured Aboriginal character Jimmy, who helps the three main characters after their bus breaks down in the central desert in the Northern Territory.
The scene culminates with the three drag queens performing the Gloria Gaynor song I Will Survive with Jimmy for the entertainment of a remote Aboriginal community.
McQuinn said it was difficult to find Indigenous actors to play the part, particularly when mounting the production internationally.
"We persisted in that Jimmy role and you know, brutally honestly, when we can't find an Aboriginal to play that role, which happens throughout the world, like playing in Spain, that's a challenge okay, we don't have it,” McQuinn said.
McQuinn said it was better to remove the character from the show, rather than have the role filled by a non-Aboriginal actor.
"Seriously, we're doing a show where we have got white performers upstage behind our beautiful drag queens pretending to be an Aboriginal community, you can't do that."
After the story was published, several Aboriginal artists and performers took to the musical's Facebook page, outraged over McQuinn's comments.
"It's disgusting that you've galvanised a pathetic rationale for the cutting of the Aboriginal character and chorus line from this work," Sam Cook, Aboriginal director at KISSmyBLAKarts, wrote.
Cook accused the producers of whitewashing the story.
"It's a bigot's act to tell an 'Australian' story in full whiteness, with the absence of the Aboriginal narrative," Cook said.
Ray Meagher, known for his role as Alf in soap opera Home and Away, is part of the New Zealand production and told Maori TV that he could see both sides of the issue.
"Some would say, what are you doing sticking a token Aboriginal in there, and others would say, wasn't it great that you truly reflected what that part of the world has and the people from that part of the world."