In Light of #OscarsSoWhite, This Year’s #TonysSoDiverse

Michael Paulson for the New York Times writes that in the “era of #OscarsSoWhite, the Tonys are looking pretty good.” Paulson’s article entitled “After #OscarsSoWhite, Broadway Seeks a #TonysSoDiverse” highlights the casting, employment and programming diversity evident in Broadway. Of the 36 shows that were put on in the 2015-16 Broadway season, many plays and musicals like “Hamilton” and “The Color Purple” reflect an intentional and concerted push for racial diversity in the stories written, characters cast, and audiences consuming these works.

“The season now ending reflects a series of coinciding bets, by multiple producers unaffiliated with one another, that a diverse array of stories and performers can succeed artistically or commercially, and the system of choosing Tony nominees is far different from the Oscars’, in ways that seem to affect the mix of honorees.”

Even in shows that weren’t explicitly written by or for people of color, black actors won major roles for characters historically played by white performers in “three classic American plays: ‘The Gin Game’ (James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson), ‘Hughie’ (Forest Whitaker) and ‘The Crucible’ (Sophie Okonedo).” Other shows such as the “Spring Awakening” revival cast deaf actors and an actress in a wheelchair, while others celebrated Cuban-American pop stars Gloria and Emilio Estefan. As  Pun Bandhu, a spokesman for the Asian American Performers Action Coalition, asserts, it remains true that Broadway still underrepresents Hispanic and Asian performers. This is due to economic limitations: “Broadway, like Hollywood, is a commercial endeavor, and it’s very star-driven, and when you have so few actors of color who are stars, you’re not going to get a particularly diverse season,” he said.

While casting is increasingly diverse, the theater business has hardly changed. According to members of Broadway’s only all-black producing team, they have found that Broadway is monopolized by a select few who are wary of newcomers. Many are working to combat the lack of diversity within the business aspect of theatre and find that this year’s slate of Tony nominees is a move in a positive direction. Indeed, as Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr in “Hamilton” says, “The kids being inspired now — they’re going to start writing now, and we’ll see their work in six or seven years.”

 

What are sustainable methods to have people of color represented on stage and behind the scenes? Why is diversity important in these realms of cultural production?

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