In an already thrilling awards season, Black performers made up a third of the honorees at the 2016 Theatre World Awards presented on May 23rd at the Circle in the Square. In its 72nd year, this year’s ceremony recognized British-transfer Cynthia Erivo and “Orange is the New Black’s” Danielle Brooks for their performances in The Color Purple, Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o for Eclipsed, and Khris Davis for The Royale.
Incepted by John Willis in 1944, the annual Theatre World Awards honors six actors and six actresses making their Broadway or Off-Broadway debut in a leading or supporting role, even if the actor has previously appeared in an ensemble or swing role, and is decided by a committee comprised of David Cote (Time Out New York, NY1), Joe Dziemianowicz (New York Daily News), Peter Filichia (Newark Star-Ledger), Harry Haun (Playbill), Matthew Murray (Talkin’ Broadway), Frank Scheck (The Hollywood Reporter), and Linda Winer (Newsday).
Three years older than the prestigious Tony Award, and the oldest award for debut performances On- or Off-Broadway ever, it seeks to encourage wide-eyed newcomers to the industry to continue pursuing their dreams of gracing the stage.
Here is the full list of winners!
Danielle Brooks (The Color Purple), Carmen Cusak (Bright Star), Khris Davis (The Royale),Daniel Durant (Spring Awakening), Cynthia Erivo ( The Color Purple), John Krasinski (Dry Powder), Sarah Charles Lewis ( Tuck Everlasting), Austin P. McKenzie ( Spring Awakening), Lupita Nyong’o (Eclipsed), Mark Strong (A View From the Bridge), Ana Villafañe ( On Your Feet), Ben Winshaw (The Crucible)
Past recipients of the award have included two of this year’s Tony nominees Daveed Diggs (Hamilton, 2014-2015) and Sophie Okonedo (A Raisin in the Sun, 2013-2014), as well as Phillip Boykin (Porgy & Bess, 2011-2012), Audra McDonald (Carousel, 1993-1994), Ben Vereen (Jesus Christ Superstar, 1971-1972), and Harry Belafonte (John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, 1953-1954).
Collecting Our Things: Black Excellence Dominates the 2017 Oscars
If you weren’t lucky enough to get snuck in through the side door at the 89th Academy Awards Ceremony, I’ll give you the Broadway Black rundown. With Moonlight taking the big Oscar of the night, it seems The Academy heard us loud and clear when we demanded they give us our things, and I’m glad.
Watch highlight videos below! #TourBusGary, Viola, Mahershala, & Moonlights acceptances speeches, and more!
Although I do have some complaints I’d like to file regarding Ms. Taraji P. Henson and Mr. Denzel Washington, but that’s for another time.
The night began with Mahershala Ali winning Best Supporting Actor for his role as Juan in Moonlight. Mahershala celebrated many firsts on Oscar night: his first nomination and his first win. While many laud Ali for being the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, his acceptance speech focused on his mentors, education, and his new baby girl.
“I want to thank my teachers, my professors. I had so many wonderful teachers, and one of the things they told me was…it’s not about you, it’s about these characters. You’re in service to these stories and these characters.”
Image: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times
Moonlight celebrated Mahershala’s win and later took home Best Picture (after a perplexing mix-up with La La Land – see blow) and Best Adapted Screenplay. The creators and cast of Moonlight echoed Mahershala’s message of representation. In their acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay, Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins pledged to defend those who don’t fit the mold:
“All you people out there, who feel like there’s no mirror for you or your life is not reflected. We have your back and for the next four years, we will not leave you alone. We will not forget you.”
Image: Kevin Winter/Getty
Jenkins’ words echoed the community and perseverance that Moonlight celebrates. His victory for his second feature film alone is a testament to the spirit of perseverance. His first feature film, the highly acclaimed Medicine for Melancholy, premiered in 2008. Jenkins speaks openly of the discouragement he felt in this eight-year gap, where, at times, he thought his career was at an end. But just like Jenkins couldn’t dodge that Best Picture Oscar, he couldn’t dodge his calling, and I couldn’t be more pleased.
Another highlight in that same speech came from McCraney, who is the playwright of In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue of which the film is based. He said:
“This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-conforming who don’t see themselves, we’re trying to show you you and us. Thank you, thank you. This is for you.”
Further celebrating a night of untold stories, NASA’s Katherine Johnson joined the Hidden Figures cast on stage. With the grace of a thousand Dianas, Viola Davis accepted the award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Rose in Fences. Her performance, which earned her a Tony for Best Actress in 2010, resonated with women and defined resilience to men.
We know Viola from Broadway and How to Get Away With Murder, but tonight she made history as the first Black actor to take home an Emmy, Tony, and Oscar for acting. Her role in Fences gives glory to the ordinary, and her speech showed her pride in that fact.
Now, about that Best Picture Oscar. Still can’t believe this actually happened. There are no words to describe what the conflicting feelings of confusion & joy bottled and shaken up, on the brink of explosion, actually feels like but here it is in video form:
As I cheered along, I thought of the power of ordinariness in Black communities. The legacy of Blackness exudes strength and resilience, but we should remember that excellence isn’t isolated to any tax bracket.
Audiences found power in Viola Davis’ Rose because August Wilson did not see powerful and ordinary as mutually exclusive. It is vital, especially today, that the Fences and Hidden Figures and Moonlights empower us.
These films tell the story of those perceived as ordinary, simply because the people looking had a singular point of view. So, yes, tonight was for Viola and her staple in history, for Mahershala and Moonlight collecting their things, and even for Denzel and Ruth Negga, no matter what The Academy says.
But even more, tonight was for the ordinary people who are, in fact, excellent and Broadway Black.
View the full list of winners at Oscar.
& the funniest moment of the night that we just can’t seem to get over. Watch #TourBusGary become a meme right in front of your eyes: