More than 300 theater artists — black, Indigenous, and people of color — on Monday published a blistering statement addressed to “White American Theater” decrying racial injustice in their industry.
“You are all a part of this house of cards built on white fragility and supremacy,” said the statement, which was published on the web. “And this is a house that will not stand.”
The signatories include the Pulitzer Prize winners Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda; the film and television stars Viola Davis and Blair Underwood; and many Tony Award winners, including the actor and director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and the playwright David Henry Hwang, who is the chair of the American Theater Wing.
The statement is the artists’ response to the unrest that has roiled the United States since George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. In the weeks that followed, as discussion of race relations has intensified, numerous black theater artists have taken to social media to describe experiences of racism, and some have begun calling for a variety of changes; there is even a petition circulating to make the Apollo Theater, the historic Harlem venue, a Broadway house.
The statement, outlining a series of ways in which, it argues, artists of color are unjustly treated in the theater world, declares itself to be “in the legacy of August Wilson’s ‘The Ground on Which I Stand’,” an important 1996 speech by the playwright about race and the American theater. Headlined “We See You, White American Theater,” the statement repeatedly uses the phrase “we see you” to punctuate its observations about the theater world, and adds, “We have always seen you. And now you will see us.”
It expresses concerns about programming (“We have watched you program play after play, written, directed, cast, choreographed, designed, acted, dramaturged and produced by your rosters of white theatermakers for white audiences”); labor unions (“we have watched you turn a blind eye as unions refuse to confront their racism and integrate their ranks”); media (“a monolithic and racist critical culture”); and nonprofit organizations (“asking us to politely shuffle at your galas, talkbacks, panels, board meetings, and donor dinners, in rooms full of white faces, without being willing to defend the sanctity of our bodies beyond the stages you make us jump through hoops to be considered for”).
The statement comes at a time when most American theaters, including all of those on Broadway, are closed indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic and most theater artists are unemployed. As unrest in the country over race relations has intensified, many theaters, as well as many commercial theater productions, have issued statements decrying racism and pledging to support systemic change; some have also opened their doors to protesters.