Queensland based publication Scenestr remains in the firing line with growing calls for the publisher Howard Duggan to make a public apology. Last month the publication was called out for racist conduct during the Adelaide Fringe Festival. The same publisher also launched a queer targeted magazine called Frooty.
During the festival, the publication posted an online review of the cabaret drag brunch show Smashed, playing in the Garden Of Unearthly Delights. In keeping with the theme of the show, the reviewer described each of the performers as various breakfast items. When it came to the prominent, and much-loved drag artist Kween Kong (Thomas Fonua), he described him as being “Tongan and Samoan drag queen Kween Kong, the black pudding”.
‘Review With Racist Overtones’
Adelaide’s artistic community was instantly enraged. Smashed’s creator and performer Victoria Falconer-Pritchard told Star Observer: “The description of one of the cast members had undeniably racist overtones. The journalist came forward and said they didn’t realise at the time that it had such implications. But after many people in our community read the review. It was pretty obvious that that was what it is, and we needed to call it out.”
“Our publicist contacted the reviewer and asked him to do something about it, to see if he was on the same page and he immediately changed the wording, but obviously changing the words without people knowing what the original words were meant people wouldn’t realise what the issue was.
“We wanted an apology. If they just changed it without an apology or comment, there is no learning that can be done. The journalist was absolutely happy to issue a personal apology via his social media channels, and we assumed that would happen on Scenestr’s website, however the publisher said they would be doing no such thing.”
Scenestr’s publisher, Howard Duggan, not only refused an official apology on behalf of the publication, but he also actually went on to publish a long and aggressive attack on Falconer-Pritchard, who had requested the apology.
Request For Apology Was An Overreach, Says Publisher
“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,” Duggan said in his half-cocked and bewildering response, adding that he “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.
“Our writer accepts his choice of words was ultimately racist, but for Ms Falconer to claim it is ‘undeniably and inexplicably racist’ is disingenuous.”
Calling out Duggan on his lack of professionalism and inability to take seriously the kind of responsibility that comes with being the publisher of a national print publication, Falconer-Pritchard stated:
“We are sick of this stuff happening all the time and it being brushed under the carpet and without acknowledging the damage that can be done by it. The response I got was very long and quite detailed, and I was pretty shocked. I assumed a media outlet which has such a voice in Fringe Festivals, would admit they screwed up, make it a public forum and apologise.”
A number of prominent organisations and individuals were quick to publicly condemn the actions of Duggan and Scenestr, including Adelaide Fringe Festival.
Adelaide Fringe stands in full support of Smashed – The Brunch Party, in their request for a public apology from…
In a public statement released via social media they said “Adelaide Fringe stands in full support of Smashed – The Brunch Party, in their request for a public apology from Scenestr. Whilst the racially motivated comments in the review were rightfully corrected by Scenestr, the request by the artists for an apology has not yet been met. This is something, we believe, should be remedied by Scenestr immediately.”
“No matter who you are or where you’re from, Adelaide Fringe believes you should never encounter racism. Discrimination is not tolerated in the Adelaide Fringe community.”
In the weeks since, the organisation, among many others, have signed a public statement and petition released by People Of Cabaret- an organisation dedicated to amplify, uplift, empower, nurture, support and platform IBPOC (Indigenous and/or Bla(c)k, and/or a person of colour) artists. Once more calling out the publication for what is archaic and unacceptable conduct, the statement reads:
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“These last few weeks have been traumatic, not only for the two artists who have directly been harmed by this publication, but for all of our communities. As people who are Aboriginal, Blak, First Nations or Indigenous, or people who are Black, Brown or of colour, we know only too well the lasting effects of racist language, however insidious or covert it may be.”
The experience has shaken Adelaide’s cabaret community. Falconer-Pritchard told the Star Observer that “when things like this happen, it reminds everybody who is not affected by this, that is happening and that it is affecting. Unfortunately, this is the kind of stuff people of colour have to put up with every day in our country, and sadly even more so for Indigenous and First Nations people.”