When Fact Becomes Bigotry: Chicago Sun-Times Critic Accused of Racism

June 28th, 2017 10:33 AM

Chicago Sun-Times theater and dance critic Hedy Weiss was roundly accused of racism when calling out police stereotypes and reminding readers of a sad fact: gun violence often occurs within the Chicago ‘community, itself.’

On June 13, Hedy Weiss reviewed Steppenwolf Theatre’s Pass Over, an adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The Theatre lambasted her review, causing others to ban Weiss from freely reviewing their productions. These groups took issue with one, particular portion of Weiss’ review:

“To be sure, no one can argue with the fact that this city (and many others throughout the country) has a problem with the use of deadly police force against African-Americans. But, for all the many and varied causes we know so well, much of the lion’s share of the violence is perpetrated within the community itself.”

Why Steppenwolf, the Chicago Theater Accountability Coalition (formed just after the publication of Weiss’ controversial review), Steep Theatre, and Broken Nose Theatre, among others, thought these comments racist is still unclear. According to a study from the University of Chicago on the city’s homicide rates - published in the predominantly liberal Time - the city’s homicide “problem” is “one of gun crimes committed in public places, frequently by young people in our city's most distressed neighborhoods.”

Time actually cited a lack of police involvement in crime as key reason for the continued homicide crisis: “the report's authors believe the lack of arrests following violent crimes may have played a role in worsening a cycle of retaliatory violence.”

Weiss’ deconstruction of the play’s one-sided police stereotypes also received heavy criticism.

"Nwandu’s simplistic, wholly generic characterization of a racist White cop (clearly meant to indict all White cops) is wrong-headed and self-defeating. Just look at news reports about recent shootings (on the lakefront, on the new River Walk, in Woodlawn) and you will see the look of relief when the police arrive on the scene.”

Chicago and nation-wide media, including WGN Radio, Vanity Fair and the Chicago Reader have given ample coverage to what some are deeming a contrived issue.

According to a piece in the Chicago Tribune, some theaters “felt pressured” to join the Theater Accountability Coalition’s petitions after receiving repeated phone calls and emails from the coalition. And this is ironic. According to the Tribune, ChiTAC’s aim “has always been about love, respect, and protection,” but not for theater and media decisions surrounding Weiss’ review, not -- most apparently -- for Weiss, who Steppenwolf deemed a “bigot.”