With the monumental success of the musical “Hamilton” and the current fight for racial equality, representation in the notoriously white-washed theater industry is becoming more of a reality.
When the idea of a rap musical about the life of the Alexander Hamilton popped into playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda’s head, he didn’t put much thought into who would play the historical giants he wrote about.
“Our goal was: this is a story about America then, told by America now, and we want to eliminate any distance-our story should look the way our country looks,” Miranda told the New York Times. “Then, we found the best people to embody these parts.”
Four people of color filled the roles of the first Secretary of Treasury and three presidents. This casting of predominantly Black and Latino actors was transformative in a community known for its lack of diversity.
Many roles, such as Jonathan Pryce’s performance as the engineer in the musical “Miss Saigon,” have been whitewashed. In the wake of “Hamilton,” however, we are starting to see some long-awaited change in the theatre community.
An example of increased diversity and inclusion in the industry is the newly revived “West Side Story” on Broadway. Actress Shereen Pimentel, an Afro-Latina with Puerto Rican roots, landed the lead role of Maria, a character that had previously been white-washed by the industry. Natalie Wood and Sierra Boggess have played Maria in earlier adaptions.
Given the current nationwide revival of the Black Lives Matter movement, actors of color and their demands are finally being heard. All aspects of the community, from theater students starting petitions to their universities all the way up to Broadway legends coming forward with their experiences of tokenism and microaggression, are calling for massive change.
Even with these shifts in representation for Black, Indigenous and people of color in theater and acting, there is still more to be done.