Sep 14, 2022 - News

Miami-Dade students blocked from Pulitzer-winning play

Theater performers hold hands and raise their arms during a curtain call.
Daphne Rubin Vega, Jimmy Smits and John Ortiz take their curtain call during a Broadway performance of "Anna in the Tropics." Photo: courtesy of Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

Miami-Dade Public Schools rejected an invitation for students to see a Pulitzer Prize-winning play because, the district says, its "suggestive and sexual content" is inappropriate for teenagers.

Driving the news: Miami New Drama offered to bus students ages 14 and up to see "Anna in the Tropics," by Cuban American playwright Nilo Cruz, at its Miami Beach theater in January.

  • The theater company also said it would provide educational materials about the play and let students participate in a post-performance Q&A.
  • After reviewing the script, the district declined the invitation in an email last Thursday.
  • Now the ACLU of Florida and Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago are accusing the district of censorship for blocking students from seeing the romantic drama set in a Cuban American cigar factory in Ybor City, Tampa, circa 1929.

Catch up fast: Cruz, who is a member of the school district's Alumni Hall of Fame, won the Pulitzer Prize for "Anna in the Tropics" in 2003, becoming the first Hispanic to receive the award in the Drama category.

  • In an interview with Santiago, who first reported the news, Cruz questioned whether the district rejected the invitation because he is gay.
  • Santiago wrote in an op-ed that Cruz "appears to have become the latest victim of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' culture wars," noting that the decision follows a vote by the district not to recognize LGBTQ History Month out of concern that doing so would violate the state's Parental Rights in Education law.

What they're saying: Miami-Dade Schools spokesperson Ana Rhodes told Axios that the decision had nothing to do with Cruz's sexual orientation — and that the district "is extremely proud" of Cruz.

  • Rhodes said in a statement, "Although 'Anna in the Tropics' is a beautifully written play with much acclaim, it contains suggestive and sexual content that is not appropriate for minors participating in an educational experience."
  • One scene from the play, which Rhodes noted, describes two characters "making love" and the female character "lying on top of a table, half naked, her skirt tucked up."

The other side: Michel Hausmann, artistic director of Miami New Drama, said he worries that Florida's political climate led district officials to reject the play for fear of upsetting parents or DeSantis.

  • "There is nothing a sane person can see about this play and say it's not appropriate for high school students," he said.

Of note: This isn't the first time Miami-Dade Public Schools has declined an offer to send students to a Miami New Drama play as part of the district's Cultural Passport program.

  • The district said it declined three of the theater company's plays in 2020.

Yes, but: Vyana Preti, director of education at Miami New Drama, told Axios that New Drama has previously made adaptations to fit younger audiences, but the district did not share specific concerns about this production, she said.

  • "It could have been a quick email; we have daily communications with them," Hausmann added of the lack of explanation from the district. "This is a very poetic play, and this scene is always very tastefully done in a way that would be appropriate for kids" ages 14 and older, he said.
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