I should start by saying I haven’t read Phelim McAleer’s play titled Ferguson. In all candor, I wouldn’t have any interest in reading it if not for the controversy that surrounds it. For those of you who don’t know, Ferguson is about the Michael Brown killing by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. More accurately, it focuses on the transcripts from the grand jury testimony in 2015 that led to the decision to not bring charges against the police officer. McAleer claims that his dialogue is pulled verbatim from the transcripts. I can’t testify to that fact because as I said, I haven’t read the play nor have I read the transcripts.
What I do know is that a number of actors chosen to do a staged reading of the play quit rather abruptly after the first read through because they felt it supported the officer’s version of the shooting while ignoring the community’s version. They believe McAleer cherry picked testimony in order to paint the police officer in a positive light. They are basing their belief partly on the fact that McAleer is a known Conservative activist who has produced a number of projects that support a right wing agenda. The playwright has stated that the testimony is the testimony, and he won’t cater to what he perceives as liberal bias to appease the actors.
Here’s what I think. McAleer’s play most likely has been crafted to support his point of view that the grand jury got it right when it exonerated the police officer. He probably shouldn’t be selling it as an unbiased piece but their’s no law that says he can’t. For the record, he doesn’t think he’s being biased, just factual. He’s either lying to himself or being willfully obtuse in order to give his play more credibility as the true version of events.
The truth is that a number of legal experts were critical of the prosecution’s lackluster case against the police officer. There’s the belief that the relationship between the district attorney’s office and the local police department created a conflict of interest that influenced the prosecution’s will (or lack there of) to mount a convincing argument that the officer was indeed guilty. That narrative doesn’t seem to be a part of McAleer’s script, and in my mind, it needs to be present, if only in passing, if he wants to truly present an unbiased story.
McAleer has every right to move forward with the production of this play as written. In fact, he’s received a number of online contributions to do just that, and from what I’ve seen, it’s more than enough money to do so. He wants to have runs in New York and Ferguson. I can think of only one reason he’d want to take it to Ferguson, and it has to do with his right leaning politics. It’s a dick move, and I hope he reconsiders.
I strongly disagree with McAleer’s views, and I really think he’s not being truthful about the unbiased nature of the play, but it is what it is. Looking ahead, actors and theaters are going to have to decide if they want to be associated with McAleer’s agenda, and audience members are going to have to decide if they want to pay to see a play that is most likely one-sided.
I fear that an attempted boycott is in the offing should the play ever reach the stage. It’s a fear for two reason. One, boycotts are antithetical to what theater is about. There has to be room for material of all political stripes. If we shut one point of view down because we find it offensive, we then are the ones committing an offense. Two, boycotts don’t work. They never have. They always draw attention and supporters and end up backfiring. McAleer’s play will receive much more attention and praise if it is boycotted.
Let McAleer have the stage. Let audiences hear him out. Let the critics have their say. And then let the curtains close. If we do this, I’m guessing Ferguson the play will come and go without leaving much of a stain on the stage.
For details on the walk-out and reading, here’s a link to an LA Times piece: Controversial ‘Ferguson’ play survives premiere with a brand-new cast