If you are a theater person of any sorts, whether it be an actor/singer/dancer/whatever, AND you are of color AND you come from the culture of hip-hop in any way, you want to be in Hamilton. There are days where you feel like you absolutely have to be in Hamilton. There are even some days where you feel like if you are not in Hamilton in the near future you will die and your life will have been worthless.
In recent news the casting of the show has come under fire, a fire that will ultimately be put out using the water from white tears, and people of color (POC) in the theater community are fuming about it. Seriously, people are absolutely pissed to the highest order. The level pisstivity (this is my word I made it up and it’s dope) is off the charts. The people on the other side of the argument are pissed as well. They want to be leads in the show and they feel excluded for not having a chance at the roles. So now you have thespians on both sides of the fence highly upset about casting and the question becomes, why does the casting of THIS show mean so much?
My hypothesis on why white people are upset is a lesson in history. A trip down memory lane. The memory and history of every actor of color. All I have to do is remember how I felt every time I’m reading a breakdown that I love and then see “must be Caucasian” or “looking for a Caucasian actor”. But do you want to know the one that really pisses me off? It’s the breakdowns that say “open to all ethnicities” or “we are an equal opportunity employer” and the one that sounds the best but hurts the worse, “actors of color encouraged to audition”.
When you see these as an actor of color you immediately start to have a conversation with yourself to talk yourself into auditioning. It goes like this. ‘Dang I should go audition’. “They not gone cast nobody of color in that show in that theater I don’t know why they lying”. ‘But they said it, why would they lie?’ “But they ain’t never did it before, I ain’t never seen nobody Black or Hispanic on that stage”. ‘Well maybe they’re trying to change, I can’t get cast from my couch. How would I know if they’re lying if I don’t go audition?’ “Don’t play yourself”. ‘But I really want to be in that show. I might never get a chance to be in this show or play this role again’. “You ain’t got a chance now”. ‘Well I’ll never know unless I give it a shot. I’m gone make them tell me no. I’m not gone just cry racism from the couch and talk about how the man holding me back and I never even went to the audition. I am not throwing away my shot’
So you’ve successfully talked yourself up to going to this audition. You get there and you know all the other actors of color there. You all have talked yourselves into wasting your time for the sake of fighting the good fight knowing that one day someone will break through (shouts out to the man, memory, and legacy of Kyle Jean-Baptiste). You smash this audition, I mean absolutely kill it. You may even get a call back and make it into the room where it happens. You’re thinking to yourself how could they say no to this? But in the end you don’t get it. They offer you a role in the company maybe, but probably not. And ultimately you go see this show and not one lead is a person of color, even though they were encouraged to audition. There’s one in the company. You even look in the wings to see if you can see any stage crew of color, but you don’t. You leave the show and at the very least you are a little salty. Even if it’s good. Not because you think you are better than anyone else but because you know what you can do and what you showcased at your audition and you know what everybody else did on that stage. At the very least you would’ve loved the chance.
This feeling is one all actors of color know too well. My guess is that White actors feel something like that about these auditions for Hamilton. Who knows, maybe they feel the same way about Dreamgirls, Motown, and The Color Purple. POC understand completely how they feel.
Now the issue POC take with White artist feeling like this is two-fold. On one hand we feel like, welcome to the club. We have been feeling like this our entire careers, our mentors had it worse, and so on. Now all of a sudden that you share those feelings with us it’s a state of emergency but the world has been almost silent about our issues with this. We have been told to stop complaining, be grateful for the chances we get, and to work harder. I’ve even heard maybe we aren’t as talented. And on a personal note, I feel as though a lot of the people trolling black folks for complaining about the Oscars are the same people upset about the Hamilton casting. So now, with Hamilton this is such a huge issue?
Which leads to the issue on the other hand. POC feel like, “Damn! Can we have something?!” It’s the fact that Hamilton is the hottest and dopest musical out right now. It’s the fact that Hamilton has taken the entire globe by storm, the Grammy-award winning, top grossing musical has hip-hoped its’ way to being one of the best musicals of all time and NOW you want to fight to be a part of it. LET US HAVE THIS! Please. One of my dear friends said this, “If Hamilton was an off-Broadway show, or being done at a smaller regional theater White folks wouldn’t have anything to say.” But it’s not. It’s on the biggest stage allotted to it. And now you want to complain. That’s a problem. It feels like they want to take everything of ours that successful. They want so many parts of our culture, but not us. POC are still second-class citizens in this country and you want to fight to take the things we do have. In the spirit of Amandla Stenberg I say, If America loved Black people as much as they love Black culture it would be a better place. I include my Hispanic brothers and sisters in that as well of course. That’s my guess on why this casting means so much to white people. It’s not because a show only wants Black folks in SOME roles, it’s because it’s THE show. And there’s nothing their white privilege can do to help them. They aren’t accustomed to this feeling and this situation. But as a thespian of color, welcome to the club.
The question that still needs to be answered is why does this casting mean so much to us? It’s simply because when you come from the culture of Hip-Hop and you are a theatre person, the culture on this grand stage and celebrated you want to be a part of that. Especially when you have been a part of so many shows that DON’T speak to you, your culture, or your experience at all, it means everything to be a part of something that does. Most of us have been fighting the feelings and issues of belonging, and hiding parts of our identity in this theater world because it doesn’t fit, but for Hip Hop and Hip Hop culture to be here is life! It’s like your there already because your culture is, so you naturally want to be there with your culture. You want to be in Hamilton to do it right, to give the proper care to your culture. Ultimately because you don’t want your culture appropriated. You don’t want it to become the “new” and “hot” thing that Kim K is doing and making cool like she did with cornrows. Because you don’t want Hip Hop to become the next Rock-N-Roll; where even though it was started and built on the backs of POC those same people and architects of the art have almost no place in it anymore because of cultural appropriation. Imagine what would’ve happen to Porgy and Bess is Gershwin didn’t address race in the rights of the show. Probably the same thing that happen to MLK in Mountain Top when race wasn’t addressed in the rights. It was later added.
All in all, there are hundreds of Broadway shows and about 99% of them are majority white and a large percentage of them still have not had more than two black leads in their history. So please, let us have this one. It’s just one. There are a million parts we’ve never had or been able to have… But just you wait!