Christian The Color Purple actress sacked over homophobic comment loses five-year legal battle

Christian actress Seyi Omooba, fired from a production of The Color Purple for posting a homophobic comment online, has lost her long legal battle during which she claimed she had been discriminated against. 

She must now pay more than £300,000 costs after the tribunal was told that the actress had not read the script before accepting the role.

Seyi Omooba was dropped from the lead role of Celie in a 2019 production of the musical at the Curve Theatre, in Leicester, after another actor, not connected to the show, uncovered a post she wrote five years earlier.

“I do not believe you can be born gay, and I do not believe homosexuality is right. Though the laws of this land has made it legal, doesn’t mean it’s right,” she wrote on Facebook. 

The actress sued for religious discrimination in 2019 after she was dropped from the production, which follows a sexual abuse survivor who regains her confidence after falling for another woman. The show is based on Alice Walker’s best-selling novel, which has also been adapted for the big screen, including a new film, starring Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks and Taraji P Henson.

Seyi Omooba originally sued the theatre for about £128,000, which she said would cover her original salary, future losses, and for reputational damage. 

A tribunal in February 2021 concluded that she had been fired for her anti-LGBTQ+ views and the negative publicity the Facebook post had caused, rather than her Christian beliefs. 

She admitted that she had not read the script before accepting the role, assuming it would be similar to the 1985 film version starring Whoopi Goldberg, which “played down the physical relationship” between Celie and her female lover. In contrast, the stage show reportedly “carried more focus” on the romance.

Omooba claimed she would not have taken the role if she had realised the character was a lesbian, and appealed against the tribunal’s decision, including its ruling that she must pay more than £300,000 in legal costs

Last week, upholding the original decision, an Employment Appeal Tribunal judge ruled that she was not discriminated against, Leicestershire Live reported.

Justice Jennifer Eady said Celie is seen as an “iconic lesbian role” and that Omooba’s contract had been terminated following a “social media storm” over the Facebook post.

The judge went on to say: “Moreover, as the claimant knew she would not play a lesbian character, but had not raised this with the theatre, or sought to inform herself as to the requirements of the role, she was in repudiatory breach of her express obligations and of the implied term of trust and confidence.”

In a statement reported by the BBC, the Curve’s chief executive, Chris Stafford, and artistic director Nikolai Foster said: “We are pleased the employment appeal tribunal has robustly rejected all Seyi Omooba’s appeals. After two court cases, we very much hope all parties can finally close the chapter on this matter and move forward.”

Following the ruling, Omooba issued a statement through her legal representatives, the Christian Legal Centre, the BBC reported.

“I have long forgiven all those who have sought to ruin my theatre career, but the theatre world needs to be told, loud and clear, that cancelling people for their Christian beliefs is illegal and wrong,” the actress said.

Christian Legal Centre chief executive Andrea Williams said they would be taking the case to the Appeal Court.

The Color Purple‘s author, Alice Walker, spoke out about the case in 2019, saying it would be a “betrayal” for someone with anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs to play the role. 

The character of Celie is based on Walker’s grandmother, who was “not attracted to men” after a “frightful life serving and obeying abusive men”, the author added.

“In giving Celie the love of this woman, in every way love can be expressed, I was clear in my intention to demonstrate that she too, like all of us, deserved to be seen, appreciated and deeply loved by someone who saw her as whole and worthy.”

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