Wrong Side of History
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You know how, when everyone really likes a thing, someone gets jealous or sick of how well that thing is doing, and there’s a backlash? Jennifer Lawrence, Scandal, Paleo? Well, someone decided it was time for a Hamilton backlash—except they really picked the wrong battle.
The open call for the upcoming Chicago/London/touring productions of the show calls for “Non-White Men and Women, ages 20s to 30s”. The casting thrust of Hamilton, if you don’t know/don’t care, is that all of the founding fathers (and mothers) are played by people of colour. That’s how the show was written. Because the show is written in hip-hop, rap, and R&B. Because there’s never been a show before that shows American History with people of colour in power. Because Lin-Manuel Miranda just wanted to do it that way.
To state the obvious, it’s hugely successful. Surprise, people like seeing themselves represented in theatre! Surprise again, powerful roles like these, especially where ‘historical’ stories are concerned, have traditionally NOT gone to actors of colour. Surprise yet again, everyone who ever walked through Times Square now wants to be in Hamilton. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a hit show.
But the casting call is not for everyone, and someone thought it was ‘discriminatory’. And suddenly the stage actors’ union, Equity, says it’s ‘inconsistent with Equity’s policy’ to have a casting call like this, that specifies who they want to hire. Like every other show ever.
Yes, equality should be for everyone. But so often it’s not, especially in show business. There are roles that will be posted for ‘any ethnicity’, but there are also many, many, many that aren’t. The casts – and especially the leads-- of Matilda and Fun Home and Les Miserables are all overwhelmingly white. The Book Of Mormon. Phantom Of The Opera. So many other shows that never even get this much press. Furthermore, many shows have some diverse performer, but they don’t cast a production of American Psycho or Chicago comprised entirely of people of colour. Why not? Because that would be a ‘thing’.
The kind of ‘thing’ that Hamilton is. Proudly.
And you know, nobody is complaining about The Color Purple being cast entirely with actors of color. Or Eclipsed. “Because,” people say, “those shows were written for black characters to begin with!”
Yeah. So was Hamilton. The fact that George Washington is being played by a guy who doesn’t look like the real George Washington is precisely the point.
Basically, faced with the argument that the casting call is discriminatory (as if. As if!), they’re apparently going to change the wording saying anyone is welcome, but that they’re still committed to a diverse cast. The kind of cast you can’t see anywhere else on Broadway. To create the kind of show that is revolutionary for many reasons, only one of which is that there has never been an opportunity before to have a cast like this.
Look, I get it. You want to be on Broadway, you dream of being in the biggest hit there is. That’s just science. But you know that phrase that’s floating around, “it’s not for you”? This is exactly what it means. One of the constant refrains of this show is “Let me be a part of the narrative”.
The fact that there are many narratives where there is no place for non-white actors remains hugely problematic. Hamilton is one show trying to change that, and wrist-slapping them for a twisted interpretation of equity, pun fully intended, is why we’re still having these conversations.