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A Group of Theatremakers Put White American Theater on Notice

A community of self-identified Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) theatremakers has addressed white supremacy in American theatre in a searing open letter that sports almost 350 names of prominent members of the U.S. theater community. The signees include stars of stage and screen like Issa Rae, Viola Davis, Lin Manuel-Miranda, Sandra Oh, Billy Porter, Sterling K. Brown, and Sanaa Lathan, as well as playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, who co-wrote the Best Picture-winning film Moonlight, based on his autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.

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“We come together as a community of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) theatremakers, in the legacy of August Wilson’s The Ground on Which I Stand, to let you know exactly what ground we stand on in the wake of our nation’s civic unrest,” begins the letter, which was posted in full this week on a freestanding website. “We see you. We have always seen you. We have watched you pretend not to see us. 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. We see you.”

Among the topics addressed are the tokenization of black theatrical works, a “monolithic and racist critical culture,” the lack of prioritization in broadening theater’s audience, and the emotional labor required of people of color to write diversity/equity/inclusion statements. The letter concludes:

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.

About theatres, executive leaders, critics, casting directors, agents, unions, commercial producers, universities and training programs. You are all a part of this house of cards built on white fragility and supremacy. And this is a house that will not stand.

This ends TODAY.

We are about to introduce you...to yourself.

The site links to a change.org petition demanding change. As of the publication of this post, almost 70,000 people have signed. The stated goal is 75,000 signatures.

Some Pig. Terrific. Radiant. Humble.

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DISCUSSION

The petition doesn’t seem directed at any particular persons, unless “White American Theater” is a self-identified, named institution (which I seriously doubt). I don’t want to Google it because I don’t want to see what Adsense will try to sell me if I do. This is a vague statement of grievances coupled with a sort of statement of intent. The fact that they’re galvanizing all of this support is great, because that basically gives them a big “hammer” to work with—but a hammer needs nails, or, at a minimum, something to smash. In other words, I think they’re going to need to start naming names if they want to make any real progress.