“HOW THE HAMILTON CASTING CONTROVERSY RECALLS BROADWAY’S TROUBLED HISTORY WITH DIVERSITY”
So the first article this week is from Vox.com. It talks about the recent controversy surrounding the musical, Hamilton, which did some casting calls this week. And in the notes (that basically dealt with casting calls), they put specifically in there that they were looking for non-white actors. Obviously if you know anything about Hamilton, nearly all the actors in the show are black. So this caused some controversy on Twitter because that’s what the internet likes to do, but the biggest concern that came out was from the Actors’ Equity Association which is basically the union for actors on Broadway. They requested Hamilton to change the language of the casting call, and the reason they did this was because the way a casting call needs to go out is to specifically say—basically what it can say is any actor can try out for this part but the casting call can specifically say the character itself as written is a certain race. A lot of casting calls do say that. They go out for a casting call and in there they say “character is Caucasian.” And the reason I really liked this article is because it went into some of the history of a controversy that has gone on with Broadway casting, specifically around Miss Saigon.
So I didn’t know a lot of this. I had seen Miss Saigon a long, long time ago. Miss Saigon started in London and actually then was brought over to New York. It had like $22 million of pre-ticket sales before the show had even opened which was a record for Broadway. And the controversy came about because the French-Vietnamese engineer in the musical, obviously one of the main characters, was played by a white actor in London, Jonathan Price. Very well-known actor. The Actors’ Equity Association at the time basically said that you can’t just simply give the part to Jonathan Price again, you have to do an open casting call. There was strong concern Jonathan Price was wearing prosthetics and he was in yellow face. So understandably, there was some concern. And what happened was that the producer of the show basically threatened to close the show and not allow—if they wouldn’t allow Jonathan Price to get the role, he would close it and nobody in New York would see this show. The union eventually folded. They attempted to stay strong which the article goes through which you should check out, but they eventually folded. And so this kind of 25 years later sits over Broadway. That’s sort of how they came up with this idea that any actor regardless of how the character is written can apply for the role, which is where Hamilton ran into this problem saying we're only looking for non-white actors. They basically had to say that anybody can audition for the role, but the character is written as black. So it was really fascinating. It’s very interesting and what Equity has said is that this has been an effective tool for getting more non-white actors into Broadway. Obviously, there has been some pushback. 80% of all actors in Broadway shows are white. There is still a long way to go. But a really interesting article that didn’t just talk about the controversy and talks about the history of everything that sort of led up to this point and concern that a lot of the actors on Broadway have with Equity. Definitely check that one out.
“DIVERSITY 102: 5 THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE PUTTING TOGETHER A DIVERSITY PANEL”
The second article in our newsletter that I want to talk about was from our friends and Lee & Low. They are a publisher. They do a ton of books, they have a ton of imprints and are very, very focused on diversity, especially diverse books. And what they talked about was a list of 5 things to consider when putting together a diversity panel. A few months ago, DIA put on a panel with our friends at the Children’s Media Association focused specifically on diversity & inclusion within the Children’s Media Association. So this article caught my eye, and the five things that they go through are great. Each one of them is important. Obviously you should check all of them out. The two that I really wanted to discuss are the two that I thought were really interesting and the ones that made me think the most.
The first one was about the panel itself. Are the people on your diversity panel on any other programming in the conference that you’re at? The reason I really like this question was it actually made me remember something. A few months ago I had been talking to a friend about Mindy Kaling. Mindy Kaling is a showrunner for The Mindy Project. It’s a show that used to be on Fox, now it’s on Hulu, and she’s Indian-American. She’s probably the, I’m positive she’s the first Indian-American on a network show, probably in history. I was talking to a friend that sometimes bothered me that she wasn’t more vocal about the fact that she was such a trailblazer and that what she was doing—I don’t even know how many Indian-American showrunners there really are. She’s the only one that I know of. And I was asking my friend, “Why doesn’t she talk about that more and the fact that what she is doing is just historic?” And my friend told me that Mindy had been asked about this before and that she didn’t usually talk about that. And she sort of said that, “When I’m asked about that, or when I’m asked to sit on a panel about that, that is time that a male showrunner gets to talk about their work and they don’t talk about it. And it’s not that when you’re on a diversity panel that you don’t get to talk about your work, but that isn’t the sole purpose or the focus of why you’re on the panel and talking about.” So what Lee & Low was basically saying was “Are you putting this diversity panel on with this diverse group of people and then they aren’t part of anything else that you’re doing with this conference.” That was sort of what Mindy Kaling was saying. “I’m going to go sit on this panel and then another showrunner gets to actually talk about their work.”
That sort of leads to one of the questions Lee & Low asks in there is “Do you really need a diversity panel?” which I thought was great. The reason they asked this—is there a specific thing that you’re focused on? In 2016, we should be past the point of Diversity 101, the people who are at the conference are likely allies to this idea that they understand the importance of diversity. So unless you come in with a very specific topic, you may not be advancing the agenda, so to speak. The first point sort of leads to the second one… do you need it? That’s kind of why I really enjoyed those two points. All five like I mentioned are great. So definitely check that one out as well.
That brings us to our last article that I want to talk about this week which is actually in Fortune. It talks about Goldiblox, especially the founder. Debbie Sterling founded the company about 5 years ago on Kickstarter and she mentions in the article that early on there was some concern, and for those of you who don’t know what Goldiblox is… basically Debbie Sterling started is because she couldn’t find any toys or she felt there were no toys in the marketplace that were focused on bringing girls into STEM, into engineering specifically. So she launched this on Kickstarter about 5 years ago. It was very successful. Some of the feedback that she got was that this was again a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl. Clearly that was a minority of feedback that she got. They’d done very well. They were very successful. They had a Super Bowl ad this year. They continued to branch out to Amazon and Toys R Us. What the article talks about is that a few years ago, she was presenting to a California non-profit that is focused on getting girls into science, the arts, etc. As she was going through what Goldiblox is all about and showing the main character, it was then that she realized how important the second character called Ruby Rails who is an African-American girl [is]. If you know Ruby Rails, she’s a girl great at coding. And since then, they introduced a Hispanic character, etc. And so the article really talks about how they’re not just breaking ground on getting girls into engineering by introducing these new characters. They’ve done a really great job of widening that diversity that they’ve already started with. It talks a little bit more about how Barbie has been embracing new shapes and races; Target has gotten rid of specific labeling in the toy aisle. Really interesting article. I love Goliblox. I think they’re doing great stuff. It was great to see an update of where they were. Definitely check out those three articles and our newsletter.