In a guest column for the trade publication Variety headlined “Hamilton Casting Controversy Spotlights the Importance of Diversity,” Actors Equity Association president Kate Shindle laid out the actors' union position that it supports the hit Broadway musical's casting of mostly non-white actors to play traditionally white characters.
The controversy that Shindle termed “Last week’s firestorm about the casting notice for the Broadway juggernaut Hamilton,” arose when a civil rights attorney went on network television to complain about a casting notice for the show that specified “non-white” actors only.
Although AEA initially released a statement saying “The Hamilton call on their website is inconsistent with Equity's policy,” Shindle said in her column that the resulting public debate on the subject “was frustrating, disappointing, enlightening and educational. On its face, it was a simple disagreement about the language in an employment ad, and the distinction between hiring qualifications (i.e., the race/ethnicity of a character) and Equal Employment Opportunity (the race/ethnicity of an actor).That it was blown up into a ‘war’ between Hamilton and Actors’ Equity Association, the union that represents more than 50,000 professional actors and stage managers across the United States, was mostly an unfortunate byproduct of the informational echo chamber in which we live. As the President of Actors’ Equity, I can unequivocally state not only that we are ready to move on, but also that our industry desperately needs for us to do so.”
She wrote, “Anyone who followed the #Oscarssowhite controversy in 2015-16 probably understands that diversity in casting is a daunting mountain for the entertainment industry to climb. Hamilton is a valuable benchmark in that respect, unquestionably demonstrating that there is a robust audience for stories told by actors of color; it also tells us that if the story and the performances are strong enough, patrons will pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars for that experience.
“With its decidedly race-specific casting of primarily non-Caucasian performers who portray many of the very real (and very white) historical figures involved in the birth of the United States, “Hamilton” makes an extremely visible case that both artistic and financial success can be directly traced to imaginative casting and creative choices”
She cited a study showing “If we are going to increase diversity among performers, we also have to produce more plays and musicals that tell the stories of traditionally underrepresented communities. This also applies to stories by and about women, people with disabilities, and a host of other descriptors that go far beyond skin color.”
She said that, “With very few exceptions, such as when the cultural/racial specificity of a character is central to the story (the recent, much-discussed production of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, in which a white actor was cast as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., comes to mind), it does not matter what color the actors are.”