High School’s ‘Gender Inclusive’ Production of Divisive Musical Sparks Parental Concern

Jesus Christ Superstar has generated pushback beyond gender and sexuality considerations.
View From Stage in Theater
Photo: Kevin Schmid/Unsplash

A North Carolina school district is in flux after local parents spoke out against a student performance of a controversial play.

According to the Daily Beast, back in September, the theater program at the Central Academy of Technology and Arts (CATA), a magnet school in Monroe, announced that they had obtained the rights to Jesus Christ Superstar. The announcement made it clear that the production was gender-neutral.

Not long after, the high school’s official Instagram account made a post announcing that auditions were underway. The Daily Beast reported that the post included the Jesus Christ Superstar logo imposed over CATA’s initials, which were colored similarly to the Progress Pride flag.

Jesus Christ Superstar, which uses rock music to tell the story of Jesus’ final week before his crucifixion, has generated pushback beyond gender and sexuality considerations. The Free Presbytarian Church in Greenville, South Carolina accused the play of blasphemy, as it consciously depicts Christ as a mortal, immoral man. The church also accused the play of humanizing Judas Iscariot, oftentimes depicting him as having been manipulated by Christ.

The play has also been accused of anti-Semitism. In 1973, shortly before the motion picture version was released, the Anti-Defamation League “warned…that the…rock musical about the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus, could result in increased anti-Semitism by its emphasis on the role of the Jews in the death of Jesus.”

The League’s director at the time, Benjamin Epstein, was concerned that the play’s “sharp and vivid emphasis on a Jewish mob’s demand to kill Jesus can feed into the kind of disparagement of Jews and Judaism which has always nurtured anti-Jewish prejudice and bigotry.”

In any case, local parents were outraged at the casting and Pride logo. Many parents voiced their complaints on the Union County Moms for Liberty chapter’s Facebook page.

“CATA mom here,” one parent posted. “I’ve been quiet long enough. I’m struggling with this new logo and this year’s play featuring a ‘gender inclusive’ cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. WHY? I’ve emailed…my concerns. If you feel led, please do so too. There is power in numbers!”

Shortly after, Union County Public Schools got involved. Schools were warned that all official and classroom displays had to be politically and socially neutral. Furthermore, staff were warned that they were not permitted to include their “preferred pronouns” in their email signatures.

Students, angry that the school district is emphasizing neutrality over “inclusivity,” immediately blamed Moms for Liberty.

“Moms for Liberty-UC is proud to provide a platform where parents can connect with other parents, voice concerns, ask questions, share positive experiences, and relay helpful information,” Britney Bouldin, the chapter’s chairwoman, told Chalkboard Review staff. “A local mom had a concern about the CATA production of Jesus Christ Superstar and posted it on the M4L-UC Facebook page.”

“We support this mom’s right to voice her concerns,” Bouldin continued. “We encourage all parents to use their God-given right to be involved in every aspect of their child’s education. Other than providing the platform for people to connect and share, M4L-UC was not directly involved with this issue.”

The district made clear in a statement that “the Union County Board of Education will not discriminate against anyone on the basis of sex in its educational programs or activities, in admission to its educational programs or activities, or in employment policies and practices in accordance with Title IX of the Education Requirements of 1972,” adding that “employees are expected to follow UCPS email signature standards.”

As of October 14th, the play is still on, and will be performed next spring.

Garion Frankel
Garion Frankel is a graduate student at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service with a concentration in education policy and management. He is a Young Voices contributor, and Chalkboard Review’s breaking news reporter.

Don't Miss Out!

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest education news and commentary everyone ought to know about.