The 2015-2016 Broadway season had the world thinking that theater had done what Hollywood couldn’t — it was, so it seemed, truly inclusive. The unprecedented success of Hamilton underlined the marketability of color-conscious casting: Lin-Manuel Miranda deliberately wrote his musical about America’s founding fathers to be performed by actors of color (with some notable exceptions). And while that’s not the sole cause of the show’s record-breaking ticket and album sales, it certainly figured into the praise that’s been heaped onto it.
It wasn’t just the staggering rise of Hamilton that had theater writers and fans alike celebrating a new, less white era in musical theater. Other crowd- and critic-pleasing hits like The Color Purple (with an all black cast) and On Your Feet (with a largely Latinx cast), and groundbreaking shows like the Asian-American-led Allegiance and Deaf West’sSpring Awakening highlighted the importance of not just white people without disabilities leading shows on New York’s most vaunted stages. When the Tony nominations were announced, the #TonysSoDiverse hashtag quickly emerged, a progressive antidote to the racial homogeneity of the Academy Awards and the accompanying #OscarsSoWhite campaign against them. And, for the first time in Tony history, all four musical acting awards in 2016 went to black performers. “This Broadway Season, Diversity Is Front and Center” read a New York Times headline from September.
But for Asian-American actors, there is a persistent fear of being left out of the conversation entirely, since “diversity” has often been conflated with black representation only. As Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr. put it, “In America, things get boiled down into a black and white issue, but I want to see stories about Asian people, I want to see stories about trans people — diversity is not just a black and white issue. … We’ve still got some work to do when you talk about real diversity.”