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Tony’s 2016: why musical theatre is usurping Hollywood in diversity

11 Jun 2016

All eyes will be on the 70th Tony Awards tonight as for the first time in history, people of colour have been nominated in all four musical acting categories. This news comes as a stark contrast to Hollywood, which saw the Oscars feature no African-American’s in their nominations for a second year running, creating strong rebuke and the rise of #OscarsSoWhite.

Now with the 2015-2016 Broadway season featuring many shows with predominantly black or people of colour casts, this season marks a positive turning point for the arts, with Broadway pushing ahead of the film industry.

Speaking to BBC News, actor James Monroe Iglehart, asserts that Broadway has always been ahead of the game, in terms of diverse casting, asserting that: “Hollywood feels afraid that it has to appeal to the entire nation and they know there are certain people in the world that may not want to see a difference. New York has always been ahead of the game and we are not afraid to give the people what they want and not worry what other people’s opinion are. If you don’t like it, don’t come.”

Ones to watch in tonight’s awards will be Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, a smash-hit musical that is taking Broadway by storm, snapping up a whopping 16 Tony nominations; a record-breaking achievement.

Tony Awards Infographic 18 24 - FINAL

The sold-out musical mixes hip-hop with America’s history, featuring people of colour portraying white historical figures, including American founding father Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton is played by Puerto-Rican actor and writer Lin-Manuel Miranda. African-American actor Leslie Odom Jr. plays Hamilton’s killer, Aaron Burr. Both actors will go head to head for the Lead Actor role in the musical category, adding to the excitement of the evening.

Earlier this year, Hamilton drew criticism from members of the Actor’s Equity theatre union, for its casting call for “non-white” actors. But considering non-white actors haven’t represented more than 26 per cent of all Broadway roles in the past nine years, Hamilton arguably comes out as a positive force to improve this statistic.

Similarly, this Broadway season has seen Eclipsed become the first critically acclaimed show with an all-black female creative team, also marking Oscar winner Lupita Nyong-o’s Broadway debut. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple has also made its mark, with the lead actress category likely to go to Cynthia Erivo, for her role as Celie.

Whilst the arts industry have a long way to go with regards to diversity and providing equal opportunities to people of colour, this news comes as a hopeful mini-fist pump to all of us tired of seeing so few non-white leading roles in the arts. As well as a nudge for Hollywood to catch up.