Zeba Blay Posted March 31, 2016 -Huff Post Black Voices
On Wednesday, a casting call for the Broadway juggernaut that is “Hamilton” drew criticism from members of the Actors’ Equity theater union for specifying a need for “non-white” actors. To the union, and to many others in and outside of the theater world, the idea that the show would exclude white performers in its auditioning process is wrong: the auditions should be open for everyone.
OK, but no.
To be clear: from a legal standpoint, this is really a question of semantics. According to the rules of professional theatre, the use of “Non-“ anything is considered discrimination. What they should have done was specify what races they wanted, not what race they did not want. That was their mistake.
However, criticizing the show’s poorly-worded casting call is very different than criticizing the show’s desire for actors of color. Because that is how casting calls work. Casting directors want to fill a specific role, a character with a certain height, a certain age, a certain hair color or, yes, a certain race — and then they make a casting call that spells out all the details so that they only have to see actors who would actually work for the part.
And that’s not to say that the system is inherently OK just because it’s always worked this way. There is, of course, a case to be made for the importance of colorblind casting, the practice of choosing actors for parts based solely on their ability and not on race or ethnicity. And if you think about it, “Hamilton” is perhaps as colorblind as castings come — when else would black and Latino actors get to play the Founding Fathers?
But what makes “Hamilton” work so well is the fact that it’s a commentary on America’s past through the prism of America’s present, its future. It works because the historically white, male founding fathers are being played by a predominantly non-white cast of blacks and Latinos (there are also plans to cast women in the roles of men).
Now, what would the musical look like if Alexander Hamilton wasn’t played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Aaron Burr wasn’t played by Leslie Odom, Jr, but instead the characters were played by two capable, talented white actors? The show would likely still be entertaining, but the context and the conversation would change. It’s like suggesting that “For Colored Girls…” or “The Color Purple” have an all-white cast. It’s a completely different show.
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