Misty Copeland calls out Russian theater for dressing ballet dancers in blackface

Misty Copeland
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 01: Misty Copeland attends the UK Premiere of Disney's 'The Nutcracker And The Four Realms' at Vue Westfield on November 01, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Disney)

Misty Copeland is calling out the Bolshoi Theatre in Russia for dressing girls up in blackface during ballet performances — a common practice in Russian ballet.

Copeland uploaded a photograph to Instagram of the two ballerinas who were gearing up to perform “La Bayadère,” a tragic love story that is set in India, reported CNN. “And this is the reality of the ballet world” Copeland captioned the Instagram post.

The public shaming doesn’t seem to have made an impact with the Bolshoi Theatre, however. The theatre told Russian media that it would continue with the production and the blackface.

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??‍♀️ And this is the reality of the ballet world…. Refer to my last post @rafaelcasal #Repost @masha___mandarinka ・・・ ᒪᗩ ᗷᗩYᗩᗪEᖇE?- Люблю и ненавижу одновременно • • • Это было здорово,ребятки • • • На видео вы можете наблюдать явление безграничного счастья по случаю окончания всей данной экзекуции.(комментатор – @_k_lopatina_ ,тело,лежащее рядом – @_anamalia_ ) (К слову,могу заметить,что мой смех всегда меняется,и от случая к случаю я использую разные октавы.) • • • Thanks for the best time: @_k_lopatina_ @_anamalia_ @zzalesik @_adashio_ @tasiwonn @chchchekmarevamasha ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

A post shared by Misty Copeland (@mistyonpointe) on

Vladimir Urin, the Bolshoi Theatre director, told RIA Novosti, a state-run media outlet, that the theater “will not be included in such a discussion” and said the ballet will continue as it has for many years, according to CNN.

Reaction on Copeland’s IG page has been mixed, with some saying she was wrong to include the photograph of the girls as it exposes them to hateful messages.

Still, Copeland persists.

“This post is going send people to a child’s page,” one person wrote in response to Copeland’s post. “Not only is she a child, she is a Russian child. People can be brutal online and a child shouldn’t be subject to an onslaught of hostile comments. Sure, that makeup looks ridiculous, but….what is the percentage of Africans living in Russia and of that number, what percentage would be ballet dancers?”

Copeland said she is tired of excusing offensive behavior.

“We can’t continue to make excuses for those who choose to not see what is in plain sight and that is the truth and reality of so many brown children being shot daily, and viewed as adults. I don’t condone bullying but lessons need to be had,” Copeland wrote.

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Another commenter seemed to suggest that Copeland go after the theatre and not the dancers.

“this is so so so wrong and this doesn’t make it okay but keep in mind the girls dressed like this should know better but they don’t and have also been forced to dress like this and wear this makeup because of the company,” the person wrote. “the people in power at the Bolshoi need to learn this is wrong.”

Copeland countered that she is tired of “giving the oppressors the benefit of the doubt.”

“They need to be exposed, called out, educated and more. I have lived in the ballet world for 25 years. I have silenced myself around ‘them,’ and made them feel comfortable and suffered in silence. At 37 I feel ready and free to stop,” Copeland said.

Leah Feldman, a University of Chicago professor who studies the intersection of theater and the former Soviet Union, told CNN that blackface has been a staple in Russian theater for a long time.

“It’s a complicated issue,” Feldman told CNN. “However, I’m strongly of the opinion that, particularly in Russia’s current climate of rising intolerance, blackface practices cannot be decoupled from forms of racism.”