An Ohio high school has canceled its student theater production of "Ten Little Indians" after local residents complained about a racial slur in the original title of the Agatha Christie novel, which never has been published under that name in this country.
The best-selling murder mystery originally was named "Ten Little N---ers" when it was published in England in 1939.
The name of the book was changed for production in the United States, and the school was using the name "Ten Little Indians" for the play's title. The book also has been renamed in some productions as "And Then There Were None," which is the closing line of the nursery rhyme with the novel's name.
The play was to be performed this week by students at Lakota East High School in Liberty Township, Ohio.
Students now will perform "Harvey," scheduled for February.
It follows the mystery novel's storyline about 10 strangers invited as weekend guests to a private island. The guests share mistakes in their pasts that led to the death of an innocent person. Each guest has evaded punishment, but not for long.
Gary Hines, president of the Hamilton/Fairfield/Westchester branch of the NAACP, complained to school administrators about the production after a parent voiced concerns to him.
Hines, who has a child in the school district, said the play's historical context and original title were insensitive, and he said the school showed a lack of diversity in choosing it. He said Christie had "racist ideas" and presented a tale of genocide in the novel.
Hines said that when he met with school officials, the district already had decided to cancel the play.
"We never told them to cancel the play; we just gave them the historical context," he said.
Jeffrey Rubenstein, a member of the Lakota Board of Education, said the board was not involved in the decision to cancel the play, but he knew students and faculty were upset about the planned production.
School officials said the title and the content of the play concerned them. They said the murders portrayed in the play showed genocide, and administrators did not approve of showing violence in a school-sponsored production.
Students and faculty members also raised concerns about the racial context of the play's original text, which led school officials to make the decision to cancel.
"The play's history, we learned quickly, still has the power to offend, even now," said Jon Weidlich, a school district spokesman. "There was really a lot of emotion around it, around our staff, around some students, around some people in the community."
Rubenstein, a board member since 2006 with two children in the district, disputed Hines' claims about the lack of diversity within the district.
"I think the district has certainly been making more of an effort in recent years to include more diversity," Rubenstein said.
School officials hire candidates from a more diverse field and the diversity of the student population has increased in recent years, Rubenstein said.
"I feel that students are getting a good education in terms of diversity, in terms of student populations and being involved in school activities," he said.
Hines contends there is systemic racism in the Lakota schools and has urged the district to improve diversity by focusing on faculty, curriculum design and athletics.
"We're lacking serious leadership on the diversity issue in the district," he said.
The battle for political correctness has left some student players feeling injured.
Luke Hull, a senior at the high school, told the Enquirer that pressure from the NAACP forced school officials to cancel the play. Hull has rehearsed since September as one of the lead characters.
"I read the play as part of a class in the ninth grade," Hull told the Enquirer. "There are no racial undertones in it at all, and we weren't putting on the play under its original name from 1939. We were putting on the play under another name."
Joan Powell, president of the Lakota Board of Education, said she disagrees with the decision to cancel the play. Powell added that Hines has a history of making racial accusations against the district.
Said Powell in the Enquirer: "I'm concerned about censorship, and I'm concerned about the message it sends to other student productions that we are now in the business of censorship."