NCAC has joined the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund (and its parent organization, The Dramatists Guild of America) in objecting to the cancellation of a production of Qui Nguyen’s play, She Kills Monsters, at Hillsboro High School in Ohio due to allegations about the play’s content. The play was scheduled to run in October 2021 and was cancelled weeks into rehearsals, a decision attributed to the play’s use of “inappropriate language, profanity, homophobic slurs, sexual innuendos and graphic violence.”
Hillsboro High School has a history of staging popular productions with as much, if not more, sexuality, violence and cursing, as is contained in She Kills Monsters. Reports from community members suggest that the play’s cancellation was truly due to complaints from a few parents and a church pastor about the play’s implications that one character is gay.
There is no question about the play’s educational and artistic merit. It premiered in New York in 2011 to glowing reviews and was later presented at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. Following a 2013 award by the American Alliance for Theater and Education, the play has been staged close to 800 times, mostly by high schools and colleges throughout the country. In addition, the script being used was the “Young Adventurers Version,” which is a gentler version prepared by the author for children above age 11.
Parents reported that the alleged “homophobic slurs” had already been deleted from the text and the directors expressed willingness to work with the district superintendent to revise other problematic language (reported as “ass”, “hell”, and “damn”). Such words had been used in prior Hillsboro productions (like “Les Miserables“, “Into the Woods“, “Oklahoma!“, “Light in the Piazza” and “Clue”). The “graphic violence” of the play’s bloodless stage combat and its “sexual innuendos” were no more intense (and in some cases, far less so) than the violence and sexual degradations depicted in Les Miz and the dark sexual fantasies that lead to murder in Oklahoma.
If vaguely defined “sexual innuendos” are a reason to ban plays from school productions, many canonical dramatic works would be off-limits including Romeo and Juliet and Oedipus Rex, which deals with the even more-taboo sexual theme of incest. Given the other well-known productions that Hillsboro has staged, it is particularly troubling that She Kills Monsters was singled out for cancellation. The implied sexuality of a character in She Kills Monsters is as an essential element of the story, that could not be changed. In fact, the play was nominated for a GLAAD award due to its positive representations of the LGBTQ+ community.
Our constitutional system is designed to prevent the government, including public schools, from promoting or preferring any viewpoint over others. It is well-settled law that the First Amendment prohibits government officials, including public school superintendents, from inhibiting the expression of ideas and opinions simply because they dislike or disapprove of them.
Not only does the decision to cancel the play raise serious legal and constitutional concerns, but – given that complaints focused primarily on the implied sexual identity of a character – it also sends a message of intolerance to the entire community that could intimidate queer students, undermine their education, and promote a discriminatory environment in school.
Every community is home to a diversity of opinions on moral, religious, and sexual questions. No matter how strong the views of some members of the community may be, though, they have no right to impose their views on others, or expect the public schools to reflect their beliefs at the expense of others. Cancelling She Kills Monsters impermissibly privileges the beliefs of some individuals over others and is likely to make the district susceptible to many other complaints demanding the cancellation of plays and removal of books from library shelves and school curricula.
Read the full letter to the school district below. Click here for a full screen view: