A high school in New York has cancelled its production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame after a furious backlash from students at the casting of a white girl for the lead female role of Esmeralda.

Ithaca High School's decision to cast a white actress in the role of Esmeralda, a Romany gipsy living in Paris in the 15th century, led to the row.

Students complained that while the girl chosen was "a stellar actor, singer and dancer", she should not play the role because she represented the "epitome of whiteness".

"At best, this is cultural appropriation," the group, who named themselves Students United Ithaca, wrote. "At worst, it is whitewashing, a racist casting practice which has its roots in minstrelsy."

On Facebook, the group wrote: "Stop the racist and openly stated policy of 'color blind' casting. Because of institutionalized racism this results in white children being cast in roles written as white parts and also white children being cast in roles that were specifically intended for people of color."

"It shows you that theatre wasn't made for you," African-American student Maddi Carroll told the Ithaca Journal. "And it shows you that, if you can't get the parts that are written for you, what parts are you going to get?"

Musical New York High School
Students at Ithaca High School shut down the production of Hunchback of Notre Dame Facebook/StudentsUnitedIthaca

The school announced on Wednesday (7 February) that it was cancelling the musical production. In a statement it said it would try to be "more inclusive and culturally responsive [in its] efforts to eliminate institutional biases".

"We thank everyone for their contributions as we delve further into complex conversations," the school said.

"In addition, we ask that you please stay engaged as we continually work to create community-wide support for our students and school community."