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The Tony Awards touted diversity, but here's how the ceremony can do even better going forward

They've come a long way, but there's much more that needs to change.

tony awards, diversity, broadway
Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

Radio City Music Hall is the home of the Tony Awards.

The 2022 Tony Awards was billed as one of the most diverse Tony Awards in history. And that’s not totally untrue. The show saw its first nonbinary winner, “Six: The Musical” writer Toby Marlow. Additionally, there were seven plays written by Black playwrights during this Broadway season, a fact that host Ariana DeBose pointed out in her opening number/monologue. She quipped that it was nice to see that “‘The Great White Way’ is becoming more of a nickname as opposed to a how-to guide.”


And this year was absolutely a benchmark year when it comes to Black representation at the Tonys. As someone who is an avid theater fan (the Tonys are to me what the Oscars are to film people), I love watching the beauty and spectacle of the show. But as a Black woman, I am always aware of the conversations around diversity. They’re incredibly important conversations to be having, and while the Tonys used much of DeBose’s opening monologue to proclaim how diverse Broadway currently is, most of the winners didn’t reflect the sudden push for diversity, more specifically, Black creators and performers.

In the categories of Best Play, Best Director of a Play and Best Featured Actress in a Musical, there were multiple Black nominees, including Black women, but all of the winners were white. Not only white, but white people who have already won before and are critically acclaimed. For most of the show, it would be Black nominee multiple times over a category, only to have a white winner. Watching the show unfold became increasingly more frustrating.

After the national protests and conversations about race in 2020, a group of theater performers and other creatives, including Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Sandra Oh, wrote an open letter, “Dear White American Theater.”

“We see you. We have always seen you. We have watched you pretend not to see us,” the letter reads.

“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, while relegating a token, if any, slot for a BIPOC play. We see you.”

““A Strange Loop”(@StrangeLoopBway) by Michael R. Jackson (@TheLivingMJ) bills itself as a “Big, Black & Queer-Ass American Musical.” Days before he and the show each won Tony Awards, Jackson talked to me about the spectacular show he spent 18 years writing https://t.co/vkf5S0MSSt”

One of the biggest issues with diversity on Broadway, at the Tonys or otherwise, is that the people in positions of power are still largely white. Take, for example, the new Broadway musical “A Strange Loop.” It has garnered a lot of buzz since it opened, and it picked up Tonys for Best Book of a Musical and Best Musical. When the show won Best Musical, the award was accepted by its white female producer (Barbara Whitman) along with its Black writer (Michael R. Jackson), despite its performance being presented by Black producers RuPaul Charles and Jennifer Hudson earlier in the broadcast. (Fun fact: Being a producer of the musical scored Hudson an EGOT, making her the second Black woman, and youngest winner overall.)

Clearly, Black producers exist, but they are not the lead producers, and as we know, the lead producers are the ones who become the face of the show in certain aspects. I’m not saying that white producers shouldn’t exist, but to create a more diverse playing field, they should be partnering with BIPOC producers, especially when the show is about a marginalized group. It may not seem like a big deal, but optics really do make it a big deal. It would have been way more impactful to the conversation to see all those Black faces on stage and have a Black person making the speech.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the Tony’s, steering committee members of the Asian American Performers Action Coalition Christine Toy Johnson and Pun Bandhu talked about diversity on Broadway—the strides that have been made and areas that still fall short. The Asian American Performers Action Coalition is a group of AAPI theater folks who for the last 10 years have worked to increase opportunities for mainly Asian and Asian American creatives, but also to helping BIPOC communities as well.

Bandhu pointed out that over the years, there’s this swinging pendulum when it comes to representation. He refers to it as a “scarcity model,” where only one marginalized group can be having success at any given time. For example, after Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Broadway hit “In the Heights” opened and won Tonys in 2009, there was a boost in interest surrounding Latino representation. After a show like “The Color Purple,” a boost in telling Black stories. He also added that the amount of diversity on Broadway never “went above 20 percent for marginalized and underrepresented groups from year to year over the course of 10 years.”

“"A Strange Loop is a story that centers the queer Black experience in the Broadway space which very well hits a chord when it comes to the creative process and navigating the world while being queer -- specifically Black and queer." @DinoRay https://t.co/IYqVu0bzwm”

“Thinking that there’s only so much ground that can be given to marginalized groups … leads to this oppression Olympics, a system by which the power structure benefits from having all the marginalized groups competing against each other. What our statistics help to prove is that it’s a larger problem that has to do with centering white narratives and artists at the expense of all else,” Bandhu explained.

While this year was a record year for Black representation on Broadway, that meant that other marginalized racial groups got little to no recognition at all. There were only two Asian nominees this year, for lighting design. And while wins for either of them would have been historic, where is the visible Asian representation?

“I think that there’s been this ongoing myth about [AAPI talent] not existing, which is why we’re not represented,” Johnson told The Hollywood Reporter.

In a 2016 Forbes article, writer Lee Seymour stated that only 12 people of Asian descent have won a Tony—three producers have won more than once. David Henry Hwang was the first—and only—Asian American to win best play, back in 1988.

This is the perfect example of the “scarcity model,” and it feels ridiculous that it’s still a thing in 2022. But again, that leads to my earlier point of having marginalized producers. They will be more diligent about seeking out marginalized creators, actors and others. You have to have equity at the top to have equity at the bottom.

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...according to the Pennsylvania Ballet, which reported encountering the post on the social media site.

The Pennsylvania Ballet, whose company members regularly wear tutus, had a few choice words for anyone who thinks their light, frequently pink costumes mean they're not "tough."

Commence epic reply...


(full text transcribed under the post).

A Facebook user recently commented that the Eagles had "played like they were wearing tutus!!!"

Our response:

"With all due respect to the Eagles, let's take a minute to look at what our tutu wearing women have done this month:

By tomorrow afternoon, the ballerinas that wear tutus at Pennsylvania Ballet will have performed The Nutcracker 27 times in 21 days. Some of those women have performed the Snow scene and the Waltz of the Flowers without an understudy or second cast. No 'second string' to come in and spell them when they needed a break. When they have been sick they have come to the theater, put on make up and costume, smiled and performed. When they have felt an injury in the middle of a show there have been no injury timeouts. They have kept smiling, finished their job, bowed, left the stage, and then dealt with what hurts. Some of these tutu wearers have been tossed into a new position with only a moments notice. That's like a cornerback being told at halftime that they're going to play wide receiver for the second half, but they need to make sure that no one can tell they've never played wide receiver before. They have done all of this with such artistry and grace that audience after audience has clapped and cheered (no Boo Birds at the Academy) and the Philadelphia Inquirer has said this production looks "better than ever".

So no, the Eagles have not played like they were wearing tutus. If they had, Chip Kelly would still be a head coach and we'd all be looking forward to the playoffs."

Happy New Year!

In case it wasn't obvious, toughness has nothing to do with your gender.

Gendered and homophobic insults in sports have been around basically forever — how many boys are called a "pansy" on the football field or told they "throw like a girl" in Little League?

"They played like they were wearing tutus" is the same deal. It's shorthand for "You're kinda ladylike, which means you're not tough enough."

Pure intimidation.

Photo by Ralph Daily/Flickr.

Toughness, however, has a funny way of not being pinned to one particular gender. It's not just ballerinas, either. NFL cheerleaders? They get paid next to nothing to dance in bikini tops and short-shorts in all kinds of weather — and wear only ever-so-slightly heavier outfits when the thermometer drops below freezing. And don't even get me started on how mind-bogglingly badass the Rockettes are.

Toughness also has nothing to do with what kind of clothes you wear.

As my colleague Parker Molloy astutely points out, the kinds of clothes assigned to people of different genders are, and have always been, basically completely arbitrary. Pink has been both a "boys color" and a "girls color" at different points throughout history. President Franklin D. Roosevelt — longtime survivor of polio, Depression vanquisher, wartime leader, and no one's idea of a wimp — was photographed in his childhood sporting a long blonde hairstyle and wearing a dress.

Many of us are conditioned to see a frilly pink dance costume and think "delicate," and to look at a football helmet and pads and think "big and strong." But scratch the surface a little bit, and you'll meet tutu-wearing ballerinas who that are among toughest people on the planet and cleat-and-helmet-wearing football players who are ... well. The 2015 Eagles.

You just can't tell from their outerwear.

Ballerinas wear tutus for the same reason football players wear uniforms and pads:

Photo by zaimoku_woodpile/Flickr.


To get the job done.


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