scenestr publisher, Howard Duggan, has responded to allegations of "Inexplicable Racism" on scenestr.
On Friday 1st March, scenestr published a review of ‘Smashed’ at Adelaide Fringe. The queer cabaret production features food as a central theme. That review can be read here
The penultimate paragraph of that article sought to add flavour and zest to a maximum five-star review and read:
“Victoria Falconer, known to Fringe audiences through Fringe Wives Club, is the sourdough upon which a saucy and colourful bunch of artists is served: the whips and lasso of Club Briefs’ Dale Woodbridge Brown, the farmer’s breakfast; burlesque dancer, Lizzy Baker, the nude fruit shake; Tongan and Samoan drag queen Kween Kong, the black pudding; cabaret siren Alex De Porteous, a risqué bowl of fruit loops; and circus aerialist Malia Walsh, the bogan liquid breakfast.”
Shortly after the review was posted, the promoter of Smashed contacted our writer and conveyed they loved the review but were uncomfortable with the term “black pudding” and requested an alternative be used. Our writer had immediately apologised to the promoter and made the alteration on the Adelaide Fringe website. He also sent an urgent e-mail to scenestr's editor. Early the next morning (2nd March), the scenestr online article was amended. It transpired all the food descriptors and in particular “black pudding” were our writer’s mis-firing attempts at creative and relevant writing.
Three days later (5th March) our editor was contacted by Smashed’s external public relations person. It was relayed to us that Thomas Fonua suggested that scenestr participate in a public forum at Fringe and to use that opportunity to apologise publicly.
Our editor immediately apprised me of the situation and I telephoned Smashed’s PR representative. In that call, it was re-affirmed that Mr Fonua wished for a public apology. In that moment I said I felt the request was an overreach given the writer had apologised, the article had been immediately amended, the context and intent of the article was positive, that all parties agreed no offence was intended, and we accepted it was sufficient that Mr Fonua had taken offence.
I specifically said – twice – I’d be happy to discuss this further and to please relay to Mr Fonua that I’d “welcome a call from him”. As to whether discussion with Mr Fonua would have changed our position, we'll never know. The call never came.
Yesterday evening (9th March), Victoria Falconer, co-creator of Smashed, posted on Instagram. We take serious issue with a number of elements in that post and find her inflammatory allegation that "our review was racially motivated" without genuine basis and totally unacceptable. Stating that work is 'racially motivated' is a very strong allegation to make and deserves the closest scrutiny.
These are the elements of Ms Falconer's post with which we take extreme umbrage:
1. “One of these comparisons was undeniably, inexplicably racist”
An unreasonably harsh interpretation of our writer’s work. Our writer accepts his choice of words was ultimately racist – but for Ms Falconer to claim it is “inexplicably racist” is disingenuous. Even her PR person and promoter had accepted lack of malice and they'd all had five days to get their stories straight.
This lack of genuineness is compounded as she elected neither to provide her readers with immediate reference to what was said and how it related to the food theme, nor a link to our article.
2. “While the description may have been unconscious and passive in its offensiveness…”
Her own acceptance of the possibility of “unconscious” racism completely discredits her earlier resolute assertion of “inexplicable” racism.
3. “The racially-motivated and casually “othering” power of this review…”
We categorically reject our review is “racially motivated”.
4. “My co-producer and publicist both went into immediate action to get it taken down.”
More fiery overreach. A Facebook message request was made and two words were immediately substituted. The article was not taken down.
5. “Thomas, our cast and I have asked Scenester to issue a public apology.”
Not true. The only request for a public apology we have received is a telephone call from an external PR representative. We have never heard from Victoria, Thomas or the cast.
6. “The editor has refused to [publicly apologise], defensively claiming that as the remark was never “intended” to offend.”
It was me (as publisher) who refused (not the editor) to publicly apologise [on the initial and only phone call] and I gave my reasons. Victoria Falconer elected not to convey our reasons in her post. There was certainly nothing defensive about our position.
7. “This could have been a chance for the media outlet to listen, admit their mistake, take responsibility, and use this as a learning experience.”
We did listen and we did admit our mistake. Immediately.
By stark contrast, this experience could be used by Victoria Falconer and The People Of Cabaret to reflect on not accepting a genuinely offered invitation for direct dialogue.
Hers was an ill-considered, factually incorrect, deceptive, disingenuous, premature, shotgun media offensive. It achieved its desired result of being instantly re-shared many tens of times and inflamming passions. It is for these reasons that I – with the unanimous support of the scenestr staff – have elected to respond this way. It is not the response some would expect but it is definitely the response Victoria Falconer's egregious attack deserved.
As Thomas has elected not to contact scenestr – for the sake of moving forward – I apologise to him for the distress our words caused. It is a shame he didn't take up the opportunity to receive that apology in person.
Past scenestr coverage of Thomas's work https://scenestr.com.au/arts/ignition-ignites-again-in-adelaidehttps://scenestr.com.au/arts/5-facts-about-australian-dance-theatrehttps://scenestr.com.au/arts/after-hours-cabaret-club-unleashes-its-debauchery-at-adelaide-fringe-lock-in-20210210https://scenestr.com.au/arts/feast-festival-adelaide-2020-programme-20201009
Past scenestr coverage of Victoria's workhttps://scenestr.com.au/news/arts/glittery-clittery-a-consensual-party-adelaide-fringe-review-20170320
We have used the phrase 'Black Pudding' in ths article because
• It is necessary for readers to evaluate the allegations
• Victoria Falconer elected to use the phrase in her Instagram story
Black Pudding is a culinary term for sausage (esp. in the UK).