A scathing letter addressed to “White American Theater” was signed by 300 Black performers, musicians and back out house staff as a means of calling out Broadway’s long and continued history of racism.
The letter reads in part, “We see you. We have always seen you. We have watched you pretend not to see us.” Those who signed the letter said they are fed up with the industry being far from welcoming for far too long.
“It’s commonly known that certain directors don’t hire Black people,” said actress Asmeret Ghebremichael, whose credits include “Book of Mormon” and “Legally Blonde.” She went on to describe an encounter with another director where racism was almost casual.
“I was with a director and some friends one time and this person just used the N-word casually and I was stunned and paralyzed with shock,” Ghebremichael said.
Stage manager Cody Renard Richard, who worked on hits like "Hamilton" and "Kinky Boots," said he had similar memories that came to mind.
“An actor came up to me, grabbed my beard … and told me it felt like pubic hair, and then asked me if all black people’s hair felt that way,” Richard said. In a separate incident, Richard said that "a choreographer frequently forgot my name, and then he subjected to calling me 'boy.'"
Despite the stinging memories, neither wants to name names or call out any one person in particular. Instead, both are choosing to use this moment to push for change.
“The issue is much larger than, this person or that person, for me personally,” Ghebremichael said.
Their demands… have the support of several Broadway heavy hitters like Lin Manuel Miranda, Sandra Oh and Viola Davis. The Broadway League, which represents theater owners and producers in New York, told NBC New York in a statement that they “recognize that we need to first listen, and to be willing to have difficult conversations. Our members have been meeting with their casts, companies, and other members of the theatre community, listening to needs and concerns in order to set out a pathway forward.”
While no one knows for sure when Broadway will be back, both Ghebremichael and Richard said they won’t be unless there is a radical shift in attitudes and behaviors.
“I don’t know if I could walk back into a rehearsal room knowing that we aired all this stuff and had all these conversations, and nothing has changed,” Richard said.
The Broadway League did not highlight any specific action it will take but did acknowledge the ultimate goal is “lasting change.”