In a previous interview with the Guardian’s Saturday magazine, actor Paapa Essiedu described how a teacher used a racial slur towards him during a class at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama when he was student there. The improv scene was with actress Michaela Coel and the scene revolved around a prison officer searching for drugs.
“Suddenly she shouted: ‘Hey you, N-word, what have you got behind you?’” he said, choosing not to repeat the word. Essiedu was told by the same teacher that he did not enunciate clearly and that he spoke as if his mouth was “full of chocolate cake.”
Essiedu recalled that the occurrence was so shocking, he initially didn’t know how to respond. “That was a real ‘time stops’ moment,” he said in the interview. “It was like, surely this can’t be happening. We were so shocked we just stayed in the improvisation, so we were like: ‘No we haven’t got anything behind us.’ We were shellshocked by what had happened and shocked that it had come out of the mouth of a teacher.”
Today (June 10), the Guildhall School of Music and Drama issued an apology to both Coel and Essiedu as well as other students who might have had a similar experience. “Guildhall School apologizes unreservedly for the racism experienced by Paapa Essiedu, Michaela Coel and other alumni whilst they were studying at the School,” a spokesperson told Variety. “The experiences [Essiedu] shares were appalling and unacceptable. We have since undertaken a sustained program of action to address and dismantle long-standing systemic racism within the Acting Program, including commissioning an external report into historic racism and a comprehensive and ongoing process of staff training and reflection.
“We have also undertaken a significant redevelopment of our acting curriculum, including a departmental staff restructure, so that our teaching and learning culture prioritizes inclusivity, representation and wellbeing,” the statement continues. “We understand that this work is long-term and will require sustained commitment to build a culture that is inclusive and equitable for everyone.”