The Fairy Princess wanted to write today about language – the power of it. You see, this week, an attorney in New York City, Randolph McLaughlin
from the Civil Rights Firm of Newman & Ferrara decided to call attention to a casting notice put out by the musical HAMILTON.
Yes, that HAMILTON – the big, fat, hip hop hit of a musical, and no you will never get a ticket any time soon – HAMILTON.
What he did was call attention – and a press conference – calling out the language used in the casting notice – here is his quote:
“You cannot advertise showing that you have preference for one racial group over another, You can’t express racial preference. I don’t know how a producer in the 21st century can think this is OK,” he said. “Even when the intention is obviously good, you can’t express racial preference. This is an issue we have been fighting for decades and it started for black people. Imagine if the casting call was for WHITES ONLY. Al Sharpton would have a picket line. Listen, Idris Alba might not be the best person to play James Bond, but he should certainly be allowed to audition for the role if he wants to.”
Now – is he wrong?
He is not wrong.
(Except about Idris Elba, he would be a GREAT Mr. Bond!)
The language of the ad was not compliant with Actors Equity Standards.
AEA is the stage union of America, and as such, it must be compliant with Federal and State Laws.
Here is what AEA had to say about it via an email to Fortune Magazine
, from their representative, Maria Somma:
“Actors’ Equity Association reviews and handles every official casting notice that goes up on our website and that we issue to Playbill and to Backstage. The posting on the Hamilton website was done by the show and is not an official Equity casting notice nor is it in compliance with our Production Contract language.”
In simple terms – you can describe the character in an ad – you cannot describe or limit the people you will see come in to audition for it by their race, creed, gender etc.
Describe the Character, not the Actor.
So, could he have handled this in a much less public way? Absolutely.
Should he have? In TFP’s opinion that yes, he should have.
However now if you interweb search for HAMILTON, this ‘casting controversy‘ is the first thing that pops up and Mr. McLaughlin’s name and that of his firm is all over it.
Well played, Mr. McLaughlin.
Rather quickly of course, the Producers of HAMILTON met with AEA and their language on their ads on their website are now compliant and they, of course, will continue to maintain the diverse casting of the show.
Problem solved, end of story – yes?
This controversy, though legally correct and actually only about word usage has grown to passionate proportions because to People of Color on Broadway – this seemed like an attack.
This seemed personal.
Performers of Color have a great deal of emotion invested in the success of HAMILTON, because it reflects us – something we do not often see.
Show Business is not as diverse as it could be, Caucasians on any size screen and on Broadway are definitely the majority, and that…as TFP can tell you first hand, is oftentimes exhausting.
It’s exhausting to go to a show, after paying a ton of money, and realize that not only is your story not being told, they don’t even see you as any part of the narrative.
It’s exhausting to try and be happy over a new score or a new book or a new play that does not show anything but people of color playing an adjunct role.
Yes, there needs to be more principal roles for People of Color on Broadway.
Yes, there needs to be shows where Caucasians do not come in and ‘save the day’.
We need shows about the world we live in and the relationships we have where race is a part of the story but not the story itself.
Of course we need re-imagined classics, of course we need gender equality and representation of Actors who are differently abled, and who show the wide scope of the LGBT community.
That is not in question.
That is NEVER in question – and as HAMILTON shows us, it is vital for theater to invest in different stories, to change all of our narratives.
This “attack’ seemed like someone decided that a show that was written by and stars People of Color, with it’s pricey tickets and it’s street cred, and star-studded audience – should now be taken away and given to Caucasians.
It seemed like “they” were going to come in and try and take it away.
This was a reaction based on emotion – please, gurl – even Trump could not build a wall that would contain HAMILTON.
Asian Pacific Islanders, Latinos, African Americans are all represented in HAMILTON, and to those of us in the performing communities the success of this show gave us hope – and hope is a powerful motivator.
Hope can change things.
In fact, almost as soon as it became a hit at The Public Theater, there were shows that started to advertise that they wanted “HAMILTON casting’, and that was ‘our shot, shot‘.
This one show is powerfully pulling all of us along in it’s wake, because as TFP has often said – Diversity means dollars.
Only one man ‘threatened’ to stop the boat. One man, who many thought was “Da Man” raised an objection, and then all the ranting began.
Here is the ‘interesting’ part of all this – that man
happens to be a Black Civil Rights Attorney. Here he is with Congressman Charlie Rangel
and former NY Mayor, David Dinkins
What seemed so incredible about this was the fact that non-discriminatory language that had been designed to protect ‘us’ was being turned back on ‘us’ to make a point. However look back on what he said ““…Even when the intention is obviously good, you can’t express racial preference. This is an issue we have been fighting for decades and it started for black people…”
We really don’t know why he felt the need to do this – what we do know is – within the letter of the law about discrimination and who can be advertised for and how they can be advertised for – he was in the right.
Does it make it worse that he is a Person of Color or better?
TFP doesn’t know.
Many people thought, if TFP can refer to her social media community for a moment in the most general way- that this was about people who were not a majority in HAMILTON launching a calculated and hypocritical attack at the people that were a majority in HAMILTON.
It felt like an outrage, but it was really just a tactic.
The point is – language is powerful. Laws that are meant to protect are meant to protect all – just because one is popular does not negate the need to be compliant with Non-Discrimination laws.
It seems stupid to have to say it, but it’s true. This was a quick fix, super quick – add a clause to a casting notice and describe a character, not the actor coming in to audition.
Will HAMILTON still be HAMILTON in all the beautiful ways it is after this?
Producers will comply as much as they have to, and then they will cast exactly who they want, and HAMILTON will still have it’s lovely, beautiful effect on casting, and it will give even MORE people a chance at a ‘shot, shot‘.
In Lin-Manuel Miranda we trust.