Tensions Rise Over Non-White Casting Call for “Hamilton”
By Caitlin Antonios
The most coveted ticket on Broadway for the past year, with no signs of stopping, has been Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rap musical “Hamilton.” With enthusiastic critical acclaim and endless lines to get in, the show has recently faced unprecedented and intense backlash as an open casting call raised discrimination questions by seeking “non-white” men and women.
The show has been consistently praised for its progressive and diverse casting in New York, which stars Miranda, of Puerto Rican descent, as founding father Alexander Hamilton. The ten person cast features peoples of multiple ethnicities playing integral characters in the story of America’s conception. In a year, where Hollywood’s lack of diversity has come under deep scrutiny, many have looked to “Hamilton” as an example of diverse casting.
Previously, Miranda told Buzzfeed News that he was open to women playing the lead roles of the founding fathers, which excited fans and critics alike. When a casting notice was posted online, two major roles opened up for women, but were quickly taken down. Though it was never explained why, it seems that for now, those roles will remain fulfilled by male actors.
“We are so excited to find unique and outstanding people for all roles in Hamilton all around America, but unfortunately, this is not our casting breakdown and does not reflect our current casting criteria,” said casting direction Bethany Knox in an email to BuzzFeed News.
The most recent controversy, first reported by CBS New York, has stirred up heated response on both sides. Originally, the casting call stated they were “seeking non-white men and women, ages 20s to 30s.” This was later amended to include all ethnicities and one of the shows producers, Jeffrey Seller, said in a released statement that the show will continue its diverse casting as it was originally written for non-white actors.
While race is legally allowed to be a factor in casting decisions, the casting call did not include the traditionally standard language of inclusiveness for actors of all ethnic backgrounds. This drew heavy criticism from the Actors’ Equity Union, but civil rights attorney Ron Kuby said it’s completely legitimate to cast non-white actors for a show that is about putting minority actors as founding fathers, according to New York Daily News.
The appeal of the production is clear. The soundtrack is both educational and entertaining, bringing a new and fresh take to the stories we learned in elementary school. For a production that has been praised by media as progressive and innovative, its casting decisions are questionable.
By posting a casting call for men and women for two major characters, then removing that option for women raises questions about the company’s intentions. They claim to encourage all genders and ethnicities but have excluded a gender and an ethnicity through their actions. If their goal is for only non-white actors to appear in the show, that is the decision of the creator and producers. The problem lies in excluding white actors from auditioning.