Lea Michele in “Funny Girl:” the problem with forgiving and forgetting

By Grace Hogsten

Elm Staff Writer

Earlier this month, former “Glee” actress Lea Michele debuted as Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of “Funny Girl.” Previously, actress Beanie Feldstein was cast in the role, but her year-long contract was cut down to just six months, according to a Page Six article.

“Glee” castmate Samantha Ware, who previously opened up about Michele’s racist comments on set, took to Twitter to discuss her disappointment about the casting.

“Yes, I’m Black. Yes, I was abused. Yes, my dreams were tainted. Yes, Broadway upholds whiteness. Yes, Hollywood does the same. Yes, silence is complicity,” Ware tweeted.

Racist allegations against Michele were first made in June 2020 by Ware.

“[Y]ou made my first television gig a living hell,” she tweeted.

Ware also said in a tweet that Michele’s microaggressions, among others, caused her to “question a career in Hollywood.”

Other “Glee” cast members spoke up about Michele’s actions on set. Amber Riley, who played Mercedes on the show, also tweeted about the situation following Ware’s official statement.

“I’m not going to say that Lea Michele is racist. That’s not what I’m saying. But at the same time, in my inbox there are a lot of Black actors and actresses telling me their stories and letting me know they have dealt with the same things on set, being terrorized by the white girls that are the leads of the show,” she tweeted.

Soon after Ware discussed the allegations, Michele made a post saying that she did not remember the incidents described and apologized for hurting her castmate. However, Michele’s actions portray a worldview that cannot be remedied by a few years’ time and a “notes app apology.”

Producers, directors, and other powerful executives make excuses for their racist colleagues far too often. Actors such as Michele create hostile work environments for their marginalized coworkers, and casting directors condone this harm by withholding consequences.

Many question Michele’s casting in “Funny Girl,” wondering if it is appropriate for a celebrity with an allegedly racist past to perform in a show on such a large stage, therefore asserting that the industry prioritizes the careers of white actors over the safety of actors of color.

Ware’s tweet highlights the issue with Michele’s casting. Celebrities like Michele endanger the livelihoods and careers of marginalized actors without fear of consequence. Although Michele’s racist actions had little effect on her life or career, they certainly affected castmates like Ware.

Some may argue that Michele’s alleged actions or biases do not need to influence her career, believing that her opinions can be separated from her career.

However, by giving Michele a large platform in a Broadway show, producers and casting directors implicitly express an opinion on her past behavior: they condone it. The allegations of racism against her are clearly not important enough to warrant any consequences.

The beliefs of an actor do matter, especially in the age of the internet. Every celebrity is able to influence their audience, not only through public appearances and published works like books, but through a constant stream of social media posts.

Michele’s starring role in “Funny Girl” provides her with a larger audience than before. With each new role and project, she garners more attention, and thus has more opportunities to spread potentially harmful ideas to her fans.

Michele’s presence in pop culture following the allegations of racism against her serves as a constant reminder that our culture does not take these allegations seriously. The example of Lea Michele shows that our society prioritizes a star’s talent instead of holding them accountable.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photo Caption: Actress Lea Michele’s recent role as Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of “Funny Girl” calls into question whether the public can forgive her racist actions or not.

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