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NIFCA Disqualifies Pro-Christian Theatre Performance

Nov 12, 2023

Another battle front against Judeo-Christian values and free speech has opened in Barbados. This time it is in the Creative Arts and the battle front is none other than the 2023 National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA).  This article is a critical a review of the disqualification of a dramatic piece entitled Speak Life by the Christian theatre group, Praise Academy of Dance (“Praise Academy”).  

Background

On 27 October, performers of Praise Academy presented a 16-minute dramatic entitled piece Speak Life in the preliminaries of the 2023 NIFCA season.   After the presentation, the judges informed the presenters that the performance was disqualified.  Preliminaries are not open to the public, so the following points made by the judges re. the performance are from a press release by the Director of Praise Academy of Dance, Ms. Marcia Weekes. The release can be downloaded here.

In justifying their disqualification, the NIFCA judges indicated, inter alia, the following objections to the presentation: 

  1. identified and denounced a particular community
  2. was not in good taste
  3. was emotionally aggressive
  4. was defamatory
  5. promoted discrimination

 Barbados Uncensored acquired the full script of the presentation and excerpts from the visual performance for analysis. That analysis was conducted against two sets of issues. First the judges statements about the performance; second NIFCA’s written rules applicable to theatre performances, 2023.  

Concept of Community

Tedious as it might be, we need to take the time to understand what community the judges are referring to.  If we take the term community to mean an identifiable group of people from a specific geographical location, we can find no evidence of a reference to any such community in the Speak Life script. 

If we stretch the term to mean “a set of people from a particular ethnicity or ethnic background”, we are once again disappointed; we can find no reference to any such entity in the presentation. 

What the judges seem to be referring to is what we might call a sociological interpretation of community. This interpretation refers to loose associations of individuals who subscribe or are perceived to hold a set of ideas or practices about anything, for example: marijuana, transgenderism, vegetarianism, same sex marriage, abortion, God, etcetera. 

On any of these issues, there are often diametrically opposing views and therefore, opposing “communities”. For example, we have abortionists versus pro-lifers, transgenders versus binary and so on. Such communities are often identified in discourse by a qualifying term placed before the word community: for example, faith community or gay community or LGBTQ+ community

Even if we adopt this sociological interpretation of community, we cannot find anything in the script that specifically identifies such communities.

 

What we do find in the Speak Life script are statements of positions on transgenderism, a burning topical issue that definitely affects children who constitute the majority of the cast of the production:

Under Barbados law, the performers  are entitled to express their view and so would any performers who presented a piece expressing their support for the idea of abortion rights, same sex marriage or atheism.  What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

We do not have to agree with someone’s ideas; only to their right to express them. That is what we ought to be teaching our children both by precept and in practice.  

Not In Good Taste 

Here we have a “criterion” which, to say the least, is very nebulous. What is good taste? Who determines what good taste is? Was the presentation vulgar? Definitely not.  Did the presenters use expletives (curse words)? Again, No.  So, what is the problem?

If there is one place that freedom of speech and expression should be upheld – within the bounds of “decency” of course- is in the arena of the Arts and Entertainment.  Obviously, vulgarity and the use of expletives would be outside the bounds of decency in our view and, as we suspect, in the view of many. 

True artists know that there is something called poetic license, the freedom to use words outside their denotation or strict dictionary meaning or even double entendre as the master calypsonians demonstrate. It is not hard to transition from the concept of poetic license to dramatic license.

But, in our view, the Speak Life presentation requires no dramatic or poetic license because the presentation is as straight as an arrow! So, what are the judges on about?

Emotionally Aggressive

If you have seen any of the presentation, this can be easily dismissed as nonsense. Who wants a presentation that is emotionally bland and lifeless?  On the contrary, the presentation was spirited and passionate. The judges are just playing semantics for the gullible to justify their disqualification.

 

Defamatory and Promoting Discrimination

Here the NIFCA judges are treading on serious legal ground of which they obviously have no understanding.  The basic definition of defamation is as follows:

Defamation is the act of communicating false statements[1] about a person [2] that injure the reputation of that person. Mirriam-Webster Dictionary Online.

We have not bothered to highlight the other key words in this definition because on (1)  and (2) alone the judges’ assessment is flawed.  First, there are no false statements in the speak life presentation that we can find. Any available biology textbook will confirm that there are only two genders (sexes) in the human species. Second, there are certainly no statements addressed to anyone: the performers are merely expressing their opinion about something and not about someone.

Now, with regard to promoting discrimination we can say this. The basic concept  of discrimination is “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of ethnicity, age, sex, or disability”. What treatment is the presentation invoking?

Even without making any references to any particular discrimination law, commonsense tells us voicing an opinion cannot be equivalent to an “unjust treatment” unless its authoritativeness leads to the forfeiture of some right or benefit by the object of the discrimination.  The speechifying by the cast has no such authoritativeness!

Ironically, by this same token, the NIFCA judges can be accused of discrimination because they have used their authority to deprive the Speak Life cast the opportunity to advance to the finals on the basis of dubious criteria.

Disqualification Rules

We now draw the reader to the General Regulations for the NIFCA 2023 Performing Arts- Theatre Entry Form under which the presentation was registered and contested in 2023.  The full entry form and rules can be seen here. Paragraph 9, subsection 2 states the grounds for disqualification. 

As a minor point,  one can take issue with the expression “in excess of the bounds of good taste” from a linguistic perspective. “Excess” means “extra”, “additional”, “surplus”, additional”. None of these words by themselves boast any negative denotations or connotations. So technically, the phrase ‘“in excess of the bounds of good taste” can be interpreted to mean that the item alluded to not only meets but exceeds the requirements of good taste!

If the officials of the NCF and NIFCA wanted to indicate that the artistic piece was not in good taste or proper for public consumption, then the appropriate expression would be “outside the bounds of good taste”. It would appear then that the drafters of the regulations need to do a better job of getting “inside” the bounds of proper English.

That aside, we have already addressed the question of what and who determines “good taste”.  Let us repeat the key part of that analysis here:

Was the presentation vulgar? Definitely not.  Did the presenters use expletives (curse words)? Again, No. 

We understand that Praise Academy of Dance has written to NIFCA seeking clarification on the disqualification.  So far, the judges have not deigned to reply and therefore, we do not know what specific act or statement, in their view, led to the disqualification.

Conclusion

On the basis of the foregoing analysis, the judges have not and, in our view, CANNOT show that the performance was “indecent, obscene, and defamatory or in excess of the bounds of good taste”. On the contrary, the NIFCA judges, as we explained above, are themselves guilty of discrimination against the cast of Speak Life and Praise Academy of Dance because their ideological preferences on the matters of gender and sexuality- and those alone – have been the basis for disqualifying the performance of the cast thus depriving them of an opportunity to advance to the finals of the NIFCA Performing Arts -Theatre, 2023.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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