I can guarantee there won’t be a #TonysSoWhite hashtag anytime soon, not with the way the current Broadway season has gone. To quote the hit Hamilton “how lucky we are to be alive right now!”
The 2015-2016 has finally come to a close and what a celebration of diversity it has been. Look no further than the 2016 Tony Award nominations to drive that point home. In the acting category alone, out of 40 nominees 14 of them are actors of color (12 black actors and actresses), however, the representation doesn’t stop there. On the creative/directorial/playwriting end we have Daryl Waters nominated for Best Orchestrations (Shuffle Along), Paul Tazewell nominated for Costume Design (Hamilton), George C. Wolfe nominated for Best Direction of a Musical and Best Book of a Musical (Shuffle Along), Danai Gurira (Eclipsed) is the only woman playwright in her category , Liesl Tommy for Direction of a Play (Eclipsed) , Savion Glover for Best Choreography for Shuffle Along (which will be a crime if he doesn’t win), and Brian Stokes Mitchell is to receive the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award. Black actors make up about 30% of the nominations, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but compared to previous years, this is pretty historic. This is perhaps the largest population of Black artists and creatives to date since the Tony Awards inception in 1947.
It’s also worth noting that in the featured actor and actress in a musical category, three out of the five nominees in each respective category are black men and women, and we couldn’t be more excited.
While it’s true that Broadway has a long way to go, as Jordan Roth, President of Jujamcyn Theaters, told the New York Times, ”We still have a lot of work to do in terms of the diversity of our creative teams, and I’d like to see more diversity among our producing community.” I’d say Broadway has done a great job at highlighting and exploring diversity on and, sometimes, off the stage this season, but the real question is- Going forward, can we keep it this way?
I, for one, am super optimistic about the future, now that we’ve shown Broadway we are here, we have amazing stories that deserve to be told AND people will PAY to see them. Let’s give the people what they want. After all, they are the ones shelling out the money for the tickets. While the nominations are great, we all know the real pressure is on for who gets to take the prized award home. I’m hoping for a 2013-esq Tony Award night, (Billy Porter, Patina Miller, Cicely Tyson, and Courtney B. Vance all took home statues that season AND that was the night that gave us the Queen Audra mic drop gif, a gif that I use faithfully to this day). At the 2015 Tony’s we saw a bit of a drought with diversity, but 2016 brought the heat! The two shows leading the pack with most nominations (Hamilton and Shuffle Along), also happen to feature primarily people of color and put American history on display is such a diverse way.
I can’t wait for the day when we aren’t shocked that there are more than 14 actors of color nominated because it will have become the norm. As the great Queen of Television, Shonda Rhimes said, we’re tired of the word “diversity,” let this be the norm. Let’s normalize Broadway. The talent is there in abundance. The stories are there. Broadway just needs to give it a chance and catch up to the rest of the world. Here’s to a “normalized” season and holding on to the hope that it won’t be the last.
Hamilton Cast Performs Opening Number At Grammys
If you were ever in doubt as to whether Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton has taken over the pop culture consciousness, tune into the Grammys this Sunday. The smash Broadway musical will be featured during the show.
The cast is set to perform their opening number aptly titled “Alexander Hamilton.” It’s the rolling, riveting number that gives the premise of the show complete with harmonies, hip-hop crecendos and a decent bit of dancing.
If you did not know. Hamilton is a steamroller of a show outpacing many other musicals and starring a predomininatly Brown and Black cast. Deadline reported late last year that the show was ahead of the game in recouping their investment costs.
Oh did we also mention the Hamilton cast album broke on the Billboard Rap charts landing on Number 12.
The performance is expected to be shown live from the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York. Of course, love and admiration for this show is almost unparalleled. It is particularly a proud moment for people of color who are seeing Miranda continue to create moving musicals with minority cast and crew. We hope and pray he keeps blessing us with more gems, but until then watch the Grammys this Sunday and support.
Have The Tonys Been More Fair Than The Oscars?
Another Winter means more cold weather, hot chocolate, hopefully snow and — oh, another #OscarsSoWhite. Last year Broadway Black Managing Editor, April Reign, coined the term and last year instead of watching the Oscars, Black Twitter livetweeted “Coming to America” instead. I figure the same thing will happen this year (I vote we watch all six of Audra McDonald’s Tony speeches!). As #OscarsSoWhite grew more and more, more and more Black entertainers began to speak up against the Oscars. Most notably actress Jada Pinkett-Smith and director Spike Lee.
Jada wrote a tweet following the announcement stating, “At the Oscars…people of color are always welcomed to give out awards…even entertain, but we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments. Should people of color refrain from participating all together? People can only treat us in the way in which we allow. With much respect in the midst of deep disappointment.” She followed the tweet later with a video of her expressing this disappointment and calling all Black entertainers to boycott the show.
Spike Lee certainly agreed with her in his own instagram post and a Hamilton quote;
#OscarsSoWhite… Again. I Would Like To Thank President Cheryl Boone Isaacs And The Board Of Governors Of The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences For Awarding Me an Honorary Oscar This Past November. I Am Most Appreciative. However My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February. We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let’s Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can’t Act?! WTF!! It’s No Coincidence I’m Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday. Dr. King Said “There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It’s Right”. For Too Many Years When The Oscars Nominations Are Revealed, My Office Phone Rings Off The Hook With The Media Asking Me My Opinion About The Lack Of African-Americans And This Year Was No Different. For Once, (Maybe) I Would Like The Media To Ask All The White Nominees And Studio Heads How They Feel About Another All White Ballot. If Someone Has Addressed This And I Missed It Then I Stand Mistaken. As I See It, The Academy Awards Is Not Where The “Real” Battle Is. It’s In The Executive Office Of The Hollywood Studios And TV And Cable Networks. This Is Where The Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made And What Gets Jettisoned To “Turnaround” Or Scrap Heap. This Is What’s Important. The Gate Keepers. Those With “The Green Light” Vote. As The Great Actor Leslie Odom Jr. Sings And Dances In The Game Changing Broadway Musical HAMILTON, “I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS”. People, The Truth Is We Ain’t In Those Rooms And Until Minorities Are, The Oscar Nominees Will Remain Lilly White. (Cont’d)
There have been huge debates all over social media whether or not actors should boycott the Oscars or would it even make a difference at all. Similarly, should we even care about the Oscars or should we just make our own? Here’s the danger with that- I think society as a whole has often equated Oscars exclusively with whiteness when in fact it shouldn’t represent that. It should represent the best in film. Period. Point blank. I’d also add, we already have shows that recognize Black entertainers on the regular but even in our own communities we don’t respect them and some A-list black celebrities don’t bother to even show up.
For some, an Oscar simply represents the highest honor in ones film career field. While I am one who thinks that art is super subjective and already wary of awards in performances, it doesn’t diminish the fact that there are many performances from Black actors that were are “award worthy.” One place I’ve noticed Black actors having some achievement in is on the stage and at the Tony Awards.
I will never forget the 2013 Tony’s when four out the eight acting categories were given to Black men and women (Cicely Tyson, Patina Miller, Coutney B. Vance and Billy Porter). Or in 2010 when it was a Fences and Fela! takeover. Even when Audra McDonald became the first person in Tony’s history to win one in every acting category possible and has the title of having the most Tony Awards as a performer.
While this isn’t to say the Tonys are completely perfect and without fault, I think over the years the Tony’s has gotten better at being more inclusive. Their nominations are usually on the money, and I can guarantee you this year Black actors will be winning again. So what makes the Tony’s so different? What are they doing right?
Well for one, I think the theatre world is more diverse and open to things that differ from the typical white storytelling narratives. I also think because the voting pool is so small and the voters actually go to the shows, their nominations are much more valid. So why can’t the academy admit their current system is broken and find ways to fix it? Well Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs responded to the Oscar boycott saying they would look into what qualifies for membership to help diversify the pool, so I guess that’s a step in the right direction. My only problem with that is, how long will it last?