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Shorewood High School cancels play after controversy over use of N-word

SHOREWOOD, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Controversy in Shorewood has derailed a production of 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'

"We put our hearts and soul into this and for it to be taken away because of people who don't understand, it hurts," said ZeZe, a drama student.

Drama students' tears were flowing in the hallways at Shorewood High School Thursday. The school district canceled their production of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' after months of preparation.

"It's something we've been working on for a while, sadness is the first reaction," said Clayton Holbrook, a drama student.

The play is based off of Harper Lee's novel. Set in the 1930's, it touches on several themes including class and racial injustice.

Staying true to the language of the book, Shorewood High School theater students were going to say the N-word on stage. This made some students and parents uncomfortable.

"It's not something you want to hear. You don't want your little sister coming to your play and hearing you called that," said Laila Branch, President of Youth Rising Up.

The high school group 'Youth Rising Up' brought their concerns to school leaders, but many students think the district made the wrong choice by canceling the play altogether.

"None of us said we wanted it to be canceled. None of us said that. We're all very capable teenagers, we can decide whether or not we want to go. We're not forced to go. It's just we don't wanna hear it in our school," said Branch.

The district says they've canceled the play because of potential protests.

According to students, school leaders got calls and emails from concerned parents. One student said a classmate told her they had received threats from others.

"One of our students was being threatened by their classmate saying that we will hurt you if you say the word," Student Taniya Robinson said. 

While drama students say they understand why the district shut down the production, one thing the students can agree on is that the controversy sparked an important conversation about race. 

"Because it's canceled, we have people who are now like okay, it needs to be talked about," said ZeZe.

"That might be the silver lining, that by bringing attention to this, it's forcing people to have difficult conversations about race in our current society, not just the 1930's," said Will Aldana, a drama student.

Shorewood High School released the following statement regarding the play,

The Shorewood Drama production of To Kill a Mockingbird has been cancelled for all three nights of production (October 11,12, and 13). Due to concerns regarding potential protests related to the production, we’ve concluded that the safest option is to cancel the play. The District should have done more outreach to engage in dialogue about the sensitivity of this performance with the Shorewood and greater Milwaukee community. Moving forward, the District will continue to encourage staff and students to engage in meaningful performances surrounding contemporary issues with the appropriate amount of outreach and dialogue.
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