History is Happening in Manhattan


Tony Awards

This year was a monumental one for the Tony Awards in many ways. Broadway’s biggest night celebrated 70 years, and also made history in the best way possible.

Earlier this year, the Oscars faced international backlash for the complete lack of diversity in its acting categories. There was not a single person of color nominated in any of those categories. This caused a massive uproar in Hollywood and sparked a discussion among those in the industry, as well as viewers. The “#OscarsSoWhite” controversy was indicative of the bigger picture: Hollywood has a whitewashing problem. It’s an issue that dates back to the earliest days of the industry, when characters of Asian or African ethnicity were portrayed by white actors. Recent examples of whitewashing include the casting of Christian Bale and much of the cast of “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, Scarlett Johansson being cast as the lead in “Ghost In The Shell“ (a popular Japanese anime), and Rooney Mara being cast as Tiger Lily in “Pan”, among many others.

Another controversial example comes from the upcoming Marvel film “Doctor Strange”. The character of “The Ancient One” is an old man from the fictional Himalayan kingdom of ‘Kamar-Taj’, but white actress Tilda Swinton was cast in the role instead. Upon hearing the casting news, one would assume that the film would use prosthetics to make Swinton resemble the original character, as she is known for being a chameleon in her films. This would of course be practicing yellow face, a form of using makeup to make an actor look like someone of Asian descent, prominently used by Mickey Rooney in the 1961 film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. It also caused the Oscars to initiate radical reorganization of its voting body, the majority of which is made up of older white men.

Over on Broadway, things are drastically different. One great example is no less than 11-time Tony Award-winning musical HAMILTON. Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda actively cast actors of color to play America’s founding fathers, because having a cast that reflects what America looks like today makes the story more relatable to viewers. And it’s true. In fact, what theatrical productions are doing with casting is far more than political correctness. Last year, the late Kyle Jean Baptiste was the first black actor to ever play Jean Valjean on Broadway, Norm Lewis also played the title role in The Phantom of the Opera, and Filipino-American actress Ali Ewoldt joins the cast of Phantom as Christine today.

In the West End, J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ cast black actress Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger, which caused outrage among some fans. Rowling herself came to the defense of Dumezweni, stating that nowhere in the books is the character’s race mentioned. These productions aren’t only casting properly in terms of the character’s race, but they are pushing the envelope and casting actors of different races and sometimes, even different genders. Properly casting actors based on race when it is essential to the story, and casting actors based solely on talent when it is not, reflected back on the Tony Awards this year when, for the first time in seventy years, all four musical acting awards went to actors of color. Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr. took home Leading Actor, while The Color Purple’s Cynthia Erivo bagged Leading Actress. Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs and Renée Elise Goldsberry were awarded with Featured Actor and Featured Actress, respectively.

And history was made. @daveeddiggs @cynthiaerivo @leslieodomjr @reneeelisegoldsberry #TonyAwards

A photo posted by The Tony Awards (@thetonyawards) on

History was made the other night, and while the theater continues to change the game, it also raises the stakes for Hollywood.

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21 Comments

  1. June 14, 2016
    Reply

    So the American Theater Wing went to being political yet AGAIN. I don’t say that these amazing actors don’t deserve it, but I strongly believe that they gave them the awards just for the sake of it. Also, it should be named HamilTony’s.. So many undeserving awards were given.. Well, after all, it’s Tonys. If you ain’t making a lot of income, you’re a goner..

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      What an insult to not just the winners, but the other nominees too. You’re effectively saying that they didn’t deserve their awards, and the other nominees were cheated out of a win, which is just insane. Leslie Odom Jr., Cynthia Erivo, Daveed Diggs and Renée Elise Goldsberry all deserved their wins for the incredible work they did this season. If we played by your reasoning, they could’ve given the Leading Actress Award to Philippa Soo and made the whole diversity argument even stronger, since she’s half-Chinese, but they didn’t. Because Cynthia deserved that award based on her talent. And yeah, the HamilTonys joke has been made, but that doesn’t make it less true. Hamilton has changed the game for not just Broadway, but for theater and film all over the world.

      And while we’re at it, why don’t you elaborate on the “many undeserving awards that were given”?

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      “I don’t say that these amazing actors deserve it.”

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      Christuar Aldueza And yet, the rest of that sentence contradicts that notion entirely.

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      Hamilton deserves all its awards and all the recognition that is has been getting. It has changed the theater scene forever. It’s not even a question.

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      And your point being? That my observation is null and invalid? I’m not an ATW member. Heck, nor an Actor’s Equity member. Not in my craziest dream. But these are my observations: On how The Tonys roll over the years. It’s not about “who/which is the best” only anymore: It’s also about “who sells a lot of tickets” “which makes a lot of hype”.

      I have my opinion, you have yours. Don’t put words in my mouth. I never intended to insult anyone but the Tonys itself.

      Upon checking your profile, I can see that you’re a huge fan of Hamilton. Figures.

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      Funny that he says ” I don’t say that these amazing actors don’t deserve it” but also quickly adds “So many undeserving awards were given”

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      Hahaha okay so theater elitists are up on my ass now.. Time to hoe down, being a “commoner” and all who don’t appreciate “real and innovating” theater.

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      Talia, did I say that the undeserving awards were given to them?

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      Christuar Aldueza So check yourself when you judge someone’s biases, because maybe you’re just refusing to admit your own. No one put those words in your mouth but you.

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      Hahaha okay. Forgive me, your majesty. I’m in the wrong here. Am I forgiven? Can you ask the theater gods and goddesses to do the same?

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      It isn’t about forgiveness, it’s about self-awareness.

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      I shouldn’t let myself voice out this unsolicited and unpopular opinion. Even the Theater in Manila admins are agreeing with all of you. This is my opinion, and I braved myself to voice it out in this page (tbh, Filipino theater elitists are WORSE than Americans).

      This is what’s wrong in this world: If you don’t agree with the majority, you’re in the wrong, you’re the dumb one, you’re the second-class citizen. I voiced out my opinion, and look what I got? Condescending “counter-statement” from you. Wow. I should’ve learned from my first encounter with theater elitist before.

      Believe what you want, kick my ass off this page Admin, I’m out.

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      I think this person would be a lot less annoying if they went from acting enlightened to realising that maybe they said the wrong thing, but no. They went from insisting that they’re more enlightened than everyone else to making fun of the people pointing out their mistakes in a condescending way.

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      It isn’t about class. It’s about the humility to open yourself to dialogue. This is freedom of speech. You can say what you want, and we can respond.

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      …in a condescending way. I get it.

  2. June 14, 2016
    Reply

    I disagree that diversity won, though. Racial diversity isn’t about black or white people, it’s about all races. Where are the Asians? How about our Latino friends? Arab brothers? Native Americans? Even just Asian can be broken up into so many aspects: East Asian, Malay, Indian.

    Even Leslie Odom Jr. himself asked about that when he spoke on a panel with 7 white men about the diversity on Broadway. You know what else he mentioned? That an actor of his caliber, even after Hamilton, isn’t getting roles. Why? There aren’t any.

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      I agree. Though this month alone, we’ve got a Fil-Am Christine on Broadway, a black Hermione Granger, and a Latino with multiple Tonys… There’s still so much more to be done, but the conversation has started and progress is being made, albeit slowly.

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      I actually think Leslie Odom Jr. said it well. It isn’t just about colour blind casting, it’s about having roles that flesh out the identities and cultural differences and similarities of different backgrounds. Of course, there are other great points in this video, like the diversity in writing and even the audiences as well.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2M6Trgvl7zs

  3. June 14, 2016
    Reply

    Would just like to leave a reply for the commenter who chose this space to post this (pretty inflammatory) statement:

    “So the American Theater Wing went to being political yet AGAIN. I don’t say that these amazing actors don’t deserve it, but I strongly believe that they gave them the awards just for the sake of it. Also, it should be named HamilTony’s.. So many undeserving awards were given.. Well, after all, it’s Tonys. If you ain’t making a lot of income, you’re a goner..”

    • June 14, 2016
      Reply

      Mr. Aldueza, I believe right about now would be the perfect time for you to expound on the notion that certain awards were handed out undeserved. Who, pray tell? My curiosity about your answer is gnawing away at the very fabric of my being.

      That aside, by saying that Mr. Odom, Ms. Erivo, Mr. Diggs Ms. Goldsberry (and in extension, the rest of the awardees) were given awards “just for the sake of it,” you discount their efforts to garner their respective honors.

      I do admit to seeing a certain amount of bias towards Hamilton during the broadcast (the opening, the closing, etc.), but we are talking about a show that managed to impact positive change on the landscape of Broadway, American musical theatre, and musical theatre worldwide (not discounting the contributions of the rest of this season’s shows). That’s not even mentioning the fact that the show has grown into such a phenomenon that this ceremony’s ratings (that is, the live TV audience) have been the largest in the past FIFTEEN years (a 33% spike up from last year).

      No one wants to invalidate your opinion; you are entitled to it, but as a fan of the theatre (in general, though I do admit to being a fan of Hamilton… and Waitress… and The Color Purple… and all the shows in this year’s nomination slate, actually), I resent the toxic rhetoric you put forth. The popularity of a show, especially in this case, is not a valid metric to judge its award-worthiness.

      I see your frustration with the system of capitalism at work, but if you’re going to argue with zero facts, you’ll get no respect here. This space is for civilized discourse, and you’d be wise to gain even the slightest shred of urbanity.

      Besides, the HamilTONYs joke had already gotten really old by the time you reared your head into this comment thread.

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