Hamilton: An American Musical premiered in New York City (2015) and was highly acclaimed for the arguably controversial step it took in racial inclusion and promotion of diversity. Has this sparked a change within the musical theatre industry or the arts still remain as a ‘white-washed’ sector with little diversity?
Considering the context of musical theatre, it is evident that the industry began with a large white domination. Early pieces such as 42nd Street and The Great White Way both showed (and continue to show) a cast dominated by white performers. The ‘golden age’ presented high levels of discrimination within many shows such as The King and I and The Sound of Music with the original casts being all-white.
What potentially began as an industry which only created ‘Caucasian roles’ shortly led to the conscious casting of white actors within minority roles – this became evident within shows such as Kismet and West Side Story where roles of Asian or Latino background were filled by Caucasian performers. However, The Non-Traditional Casting Project was established in 1986 “to promote the inclusion of racial and ethnic minorities, women and the disabled in all areas of theatrical activity.”
We are positioned to recognise the minimal change within the Musical Theatre
Despite this effort to improve racial visibility, we are positioned to recognise the minimal change within the Musical Theatre industry and it is evident that new pieces, such as Hamilton or The Color Purple are still trying to combat this. The AAPAC recently retrieved data from the past seven seasons of the Broadway industry, which to no surprise, displayed a white dominated industry – 80% of the roles were performed by white actors; this rarely fluctuated between the years of 2008 to 2015.
Considering a more contemporary approach, 2016 handed us Andrew Lloyd Webber’s report, where he slammed the UK industry for being “hideously white.” Webber outlines the “unconscious bias” against minority performers whom he suggests are frequently undermined within castings of modern times.
Webber’s perspective here is notable – “I passionately believe that the stage needs to reflect the diversity of the UK population or it risks becoming side-lined.” Here, the industry enters into an area of high criticism. Personally, I do not believe it is feasible to dismiss this active discrimination as an element of the ‘unconscious’ psyche – a shift can be made within society.
Here is where Hamilton comes into play. With its diverse cast, Hamilton is made up of almost entirely actors and performers from minority backgrounds. Many of the founding fathers (whom were historically white) were, and still are globally, portrayed by actors of colour. Although this isn’t historically accurate, Miranda defended this as his opportunity to present a culturally accurate representation of our 21st century nation.
Miranda stated in the New York Times – “It’s a very powerful statement without having to be a statement.” Since the rise of Hamilton, many other musicals of ethnic diversity have taken centre stage such as Eclipsed and The Color Purple (Both nominees at the 2016 Tony awards, and credited for their notable ethnic diversity).
The introduction of ‘Hamilton’ has led to a gradual shift within the performance industry
With a tone of optimism, it is suggestive that the introduction of ‘Hamilton’ has led to a gradual shift within the performance industry, allowing other shows to take the social leap and combat the Caucasian dominance within the arts sector; Miranda himself is a highly influential figure.
Images courtesy of @hamiltonmusical via instagram.com.
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