Issue with ‘Hamilton’ Casting Call Brings Controversy

By: Bintia Drame

Hollywood and the show business have a long history of blindly and a lot more on the side of unconsciously precluding actors of color. So to argue that the “Hamilton” casting call is racist and discriminatory towards white actors is just an excuse. A way for the complexion that has always been privileged to make themselves a victim of exclusion in the acting profession.

Broadway, going back to the first plays in 1750 had an audience of roughly 280 who were whites and rich. Based on its history. This is relatively different from the Broadway we have today, in almost all of its aspects. From 2014 to 2015 Broadway generated over 13 million people and about half of the audience were tourists. But wait for it, this next part won’t necessarily surprise you, it will just make the backlash at the Hamilton producers make a bit more sense. Close to 80 percent of the audience is indeed Caucasian. According to statistics from the Broadway League.

Now you already knew that right?

As for what gave way to this controversy, the casting call that emphasized what they were looking or not looking for, was in all caps. “Seeking NON-WHITE men and women, ages 20s to 30s, for Broadway and upcoming Tours!” Using the word “non” is fairly discriminatory, so the producers in a statement said they will change the wording of the casting call. I think the producers gave a reasonable explanation of where they were coming from with that casting call.

“The producers of the Hamilton regret the confusion that’s arisen from the recent posting of an open casting call notice for the show. It is essential to the storytelling of HAMILTON that the principal roles—which were written for non-white characters be performed by non-white actors.”

While the “Hamilton” producers are clarifying and amending the casting call, York junior Theater major and actor Rilwan Alaka doesn’t think there was anything wrong with the casting call.

“To seek a minority cast shouldn’t be an issue, it’s giving everybody an equal opportunity to do the same play that all whites do,” said Alaka. “It gives me more hope that I’ll get the part because they’re looking for a type of person.”

On the other hand of this issue, those who are arguing that it is racist have no history or basis for that argument. It is not that simple to make this claim because there is no such thing as reverse racism, if you haven’t been discriminated against. As a playwright and director, former York theater professor Kristine Lee, said that people who are saying that it is racist are blinded by the advantages they have.

“For a white body that has been the face of theater time and time again and has had access to the majority of roles being offered to them by playwrights and directors and producers who are also dominantly white and telling white stories, of course it’s difficult to swallow the pill when a show appears where they are not a part of it,” said Lee in an email. “So to say that Hamilton is racist feeds directly into this white privilege and attempts to erase history.”

Am I surprised that this casting call is being blown out of proportions? No not really. Countless times I’ve walked by Broadway shows and I always expect white audiences. Seeing someone of color on that line, just doesn’t seem “right” to me. I’m not proud to say this or question it. But when society has conditioned people to make a choice based on racial or ethnic background, the professional world becomes unfair. That was what I saw as just part of the norms. As a senior ready to leave college to join the professionals and do on a bigger platform what she has been practicing, Jamie Coulter-Jacobs already knows how this industry operates.

“I definitely don’t think it should be controversial because even if it’s not put out there ‘white actors only,’ that’s the people who are filling the roles,” said Coulter-Jacobs. “I may be biased because I’m a person of color, but that’s the reality of it.”

The hardest set back any actor should experience is not getting a position because they were not qualify, not because of their skin color or gender.  As student actors get ready to start out in their acting careers they have to be able to land a role they deserve.

“I’ll say more power to the directors and producers because they are giving people the opportunity they need,” said Alaka. “So for us to have a ‘this is for you, is like yes! I have a chance.’ I’m so passionate about this.”

The notion that reverse racism doesn’t really exist, rings true for York’s Performing and Fine Arts Assistant Professor Thomas Marion, being an actor himself for a while said he is colorblind when it comes to casting students for plays.

“If you’re doing a play that is a classic or even a modern piece and the racial background doesn’t matter to the story, then who cares,” said Marion. “We do that all the time, we were all different and it still works.”

For issues such as this to be solved in the acting career, the show business has to be colorblind and open its doors to any actor regardless of race or ethnicity. The only thing that should matter is the qualification level for a role. Diversifying Broadway, Hollywood and the industry in general is crucial for having a diverse audience. Professor Lee said the white  colleagues have to make space so that actors of color can also make art.

“Diversity in the theater and in Hollywood should be a given. But it’s not,” said Lee. “It is a daily struggle and fight for people of color in the arts. It is a fight to be heard, a fight to be cast, a fight for your story to be told.”

We argue for equality for all, we believe in “Black Lives Matter”, “All Lives Matter”, equal rights, but most of all we believe in the freedom to choose and be chosen. Hence, it is very important to look beyond the color of the skin and look at what the theater values most, talent.

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