April Reign created the #OscarsSoWhite Twitter hashtag that resonated with so many people that it helped foment a national debate over the issue of inclusion in Hollywood. She’s been speaking to reporters and at conferences ever since.
What some may not know is that Reign is primarily a theater lover – ever since she saw The Wiz starring Stephanie Mills on Broadway. Indeed, she walked away from a 20-year career as a lawyer “to pursue my true passion” – the arts. She’s now the managing editor of Broadway Black, a theater website!
Is Broadway any better?
“The issues are the same in theater,” April Reign says, “but perhaps they are less pronounced than they are in film.”
Reign has been interviewed widely about the movies. For example, she suggested to the Guardian newspaper ten ways that the film industry and regular moviegoers could bring about change in Hollywood, eg.:
1. Judge a film by the “DuVernay Test,” named after the director of Selma: A film passes the DuVernay Test if “African Americans and other minorities have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories”.
6 “Seek out smaller, independent cinemas that may be showing films one might not see in a huge multiplex.”
On Friday, she was part of an #OscarsSoWhite panel discussion at The Greene Space that offered some arresting information:
More white women have won Oscars for playing Asian roles than Asian women have won at all
The movie industry is one where looks and youth trump age and experience, even for writers and directors
In other words, the issue of exclusion is not limited to African-Americans in films.
FILMS, BROADCAST AND CABLE TV, DIGITAL STREAMING
This is driven home by Inclusion or Invisibility? Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment, which looks at the distribution by gender, age, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation of entertainment presented in fictional films, both broadcast and cable TV shows, and digital “streaming” series. It’s worth looking through all 18 tables and 25 pages of the report, but here for example are three tables. (Click on any of them to see them enlarged)
Of the 20 performers nominated for Oscars this year, seven have performed (or are soon to perform) on Broadway. (Last year, it was 11 out of 20.) There are some half dozen shows on Broadway currently based on Oscar-winning films. Three Oscar winners are starring on shows opening this season on Broadway — Forest Whitaker (in Hughie), Lupita Nyong’o (in Eclipsed) and Jessica Lange (in Long Day’s Journey Into Night.) Is it significant that two of the three are African-American?
(It’s important to point out that one of the essential differences between stage and screen is that “Hollywood” is a far more accurate representation of (or metaphor for) the American film industry than “Broadway” is for the theater industry in America, which encompasses Off-Broadway, regional theater, and arguably community and school productions as well.)
Broadway …Any Better?
The past year on Broadway has been extraordinarily varied in terms of both performers and characters, given such shows as Allegiance, Spring Awakening, The Color Purple revival, On Your Feet, the Fiddler on the Roof revival, and, of course, Hamilton.
Although Reign concedes this has been “a good year for historically unrepresented communities on stage,” she’s not confident such representation will continue. “The blockbuster musical Hamilton has proven that a great story with an intentionally multicultural cast will fill the seats night after night,” Reign says. “However, Broadway theaters are still only owned by a handful of families who seem reticent to reflect the beauty, diversity, and nuance of American theatergoers in productions, even as statistics show that the audience is becoming more diverse.”
There is no single report as comprehensive about the stage as the new Annenberg report is about screen entertainment, but I’ve written about the three-year-old report from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition:
(Click to see enlarged)
To Reign, “the issues regarding inclusion of marginalized communities are present just as importantly, in the wings, with respect to showrunners, playwrights, directors, and the tech staff.”
In late 2015, the Dramatists Guild and the Lilly Awards issued The Count, which found that only 22 percent of plays produced in regional theaters over a three-year period were written by women. (Click on chart to see it enlarged:)
About the same time, the League of Professional Women put out a reporte entitled Women Count, which “analyzes employment for 13 professional roles in 455 Off- and Off-Off-Broadway productions by 22 theatre companies in five complete seasons, 2010-2011 through 2014-2015.” Sample chart (Again, click to see enlarged):
Writing in the Daily Dot, Aja Romano suggested there might be a parallel between Hamilton, which has been piling up the acclaim since it opened last year (first Off-Broadway in February and then on Broadway in August), and Twelve Years a Slave, which got Oscar love in 2014. “Its Oscar wins have been followed for the last two years by an all-white field of nominees.”
Romano was covering a diversity panel at the first-ever BroadwayCon, a fan convention held on a snowy January weekend. It’s worth pointing out that the issue of inclusion for the theater has been extensively discussed for quite some time — check out, for example, the avalanche of essays published by Howlround on the subject of “diversity and inclusion.” If it hasn’t reached the level of intensity or attention as the #OscarsSoWhite debates, protests and pronouncements, that might reflect the differing place of the respective art forms in American culture.
As the BroadwayCon panel’s moderator, Broadway Black founder Andrew Shade put it, “Hopefully we won’t ever have a #TonysSoWhite.”