‘This ends today’: over 300 stage figures call out ‘anti-blackness’ of US theatre

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A statement, from names including Viola Davis and Lynn Nottage, decries the ‘white fragility’ of American theatre

A roster of more than 300 leading stage artists have signed a letter decrying racial inequality in the world of “White American theater”.

Stars, including Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Cynthia Erivo, Andre Holland and Pulitzer prize-winner Lynn Nottage, have teamed up to represent a community of black, indigenous and people of colour within theatre who have grown tired of an industry that still prioritises white stories and white faces.

“We have watched you un-challenge your white privilege, inviting us to traffic in the very racism and patriarchy that festers in our bodies, while we protest against it on your stages,” the letter reads. “We have watched you promote anti-blackness again and again.”

There’s criticism aimed at a continued reliance on white theatremakers making shows for white audiences while other creators have been inadequately compared to each other and relegated to “token” slots.

“We have watched you exploit us, shame us, diminish us, and exclude us,” it reads. “We see you. We have always seen you. And now you will see us. We stand on this ground as BIPOC theatremakers, multi-generational, at varied stages in our careers, but fiercely in love with the theatre. Too much to continue it under abuse. We will wrap the least privileged among us in protection, and fearlessly share our many truths.”

The letter also calls out the lack of diversity in executive positions as well as those involved in training programs and in casting positions. “You are all a part of this house of cards built on white fragility and supremacy,” it reads. “And this is a house that will not stand.”

Nottage, the first woman of colour to win the Pulitzer prize for drama twice (for Ruined and for Sweat), tweeted: “The American narrative is shaped by storytellers, but for too long the white theater community has negated, censored or prevented our stories from being fully told. We must protect, support & amplify the voices of our truth tellers & change seekers. This ends today.”

Other names attached to the letter include the Pulitzer prize-winner Suzan-Lori Parks, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Issa Rae, Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney, Blair Underwood and Adrian Lester.

The letter arrives after widespread protests against police brutality inflicted on black Americans have restarted vital conversations about racial inequity on stage. Last week saw playwrights Keelay Gipson and Stacey Rose launch an initiative called the Theatre Makers of Color Requirements which aims to hold white stage spaces accountable for how they engage and work with people of colour.

A report released in 2019 from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition found that 86.8% of all Broadway and off-Broadway shows were from white playwrights and 87.1% of all directors hired were white.

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