REACTION to the Lebo M news-story at a Cape Town radio station was predictable. Lee Downs of Heart 104.9 lead the way, roasting the producer who had apparently “caused a scene” at the Naledi awards on Tuesday. Rebuking the co-producer of the musical The Lion King, for being an uppity prima donna playing the race card, Downs sided with organisers of the event in particular Dawn Lindberg.
Downs was however merely following the lead taken by the print media, in particular The Times which as it turned out carried a front page feature with Dawn Lindberg “hitting back” at Lebo M over the alleged “disrespect” shown to him and other black theatre professionals at the Naledi Theatre Awards.
The Lion King co-producer, who won the award for best musical, “said in his acceptance speech on Monday night that he felt insulted to be seated in the back row, and that the theatre industry did not recognise black people.”
Lindberg, the executive director of the Naledi Awards, is reported as saying Lebo M’s comments were “rejected with contempt” and that “he had arrived late for the show, hence his seating arrangements.”
A report filed by the South African Press Association however carries Lebo M’s comments and emphasises the point he was trying to make: “South African theatre industry needs transformation,” Lebo M said the fact that so few black people won awards in the 23 categories was a sorry indication of the role of black people in the theatre industry.
“It is unacceptable that so few black people feature in this important event that recognises excellence in a critical industry,” he said.
“The reasons behind this poor showing should be probed and action must be taken to ensure that black people increase their significance in the industry.”
“This is too important an issue to keep quiet about and we cannot allow business in the industry to continue as is.”
“To pretend we have a healthy fully representative industry is a fallacy and we will only be fooling ourselves. All stakeholders, such as producers, theatre owners, artists, practitioners, and audiences must do something about it,” he said.
Lebo pointed out that it was a pity that The Lion King had not won more awards.
“The Lion King is hailed in all other territories it plays and the South African public have voted for it by attending in record numbers, and selling over 550 000 tickets. It is a pity the South African awards did not give it the same recognition.”
Lindberg’s comments on the Mail and Guardian Online and News24 and Iafrica.com sister site compared to the Times, were rather oblique and cut down to one line: “Naledi Theatre Awards executive director Dawn Lindberg insisted that the independent panel of judges based its decisions purely on merit.”
While there were apparently interviews with Lebo M on today’s morning television programmes, no clues as to whether Lindberg was given equal time or not, or why one should believe anything Lee Downs has to say? Capetalk/702 followed with interviews with Lindberg and Lebo M as the story played itself over the airwaves.
Whatever the truth, the story is interesting from a transformation and media development angle, and is indicative of the way media deal with public spats of this nature involving arts and entertainment, in particular, accusations of racism.
Readers will remember the bias in the Zulpha Kahn incident, in which the news anchor had me arrested for attempting to convey a news story about my gagging by the media. She was later found not to be in possession of the facts and I was acquited of charges of suppposed “intimidation” with a news story.
Lebo M Times Leader
Lebo M SAPA Story carried by Mail and Guardian Online, News24 and Iafrica.com