UPDATED: Hamilton Casting Raises Diversity Issues

black and white diversityThe diversity argument in the arts has been brewing hotter for at least a year now.   The backlash discussion of Howlround’s Jubilee, an attempt to get theaters to commit to producing only non-white, non-male writers in the year 2020, showed that the boundary between diversity and inclusiveness is not as sharp as might be expected.

Now Hamilton, the Broadway sensation that will likely sweep the next Tony Awards, is feeling this heat.  For artistic reasons, the show cast non-white actors in the roles of the Founding Fathers – who were, of course, all white.  In an effort to re-create this show for touring productions, the casting calls specifically stated “seeking non-white.”  This type of statement in a casting call appears to violate both New York City labor codes and Actors’ Equity policy.

Of course, these regulations and policies were introduced to protect minorities and the strict examination of them under purity conditions leads to divisive conundrums.  For example, once the story caught fire, the Hamilton casting notice language was changed to “all ethnicities”  (though “non-white” is still listed in the descriptions):

hamilton casting notice

Actors’ Equity, the actors’ Union, applauded the changed language with a tweet (subsequently retweeted by Equity President Kate Shindle):

AEA equity hamilton tweet

which immediately created its own problems:

aea tweet response hamiltonThe relatively few likes and retweets on the Equity tweet compared to the popularity of the backlash tweets indicate this is an issue that will continue to vex the artistic community for some time to come.  Recent Supreme Court decisions, such as Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action  which ruled a ban on affirmative action for college admissions was legal, show how complex the discussion regarding equal opportunity can become.  Most agree the playing field must be level.  The only question is how to ensure it.

Update March 31, 2016:  Equity removed its tweet.  It issued a letter to replace it.

About Tracey Paleo

Tracey Paleo is Associate Editor at FootLights Magazine. She's also the Founder and Chief Editor of the arts and culture site, Gia On The Move, where she often reviews live performance events.

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