The Four Biggest Tony Awards Went To Actors Of Color For The First Time Ever
The Tony Awards, Broadway’s answer to the Oscars, made history last night. For the first time, all of the Tony’s biggest awards went to actors of color. Three of those four awards were snapped up by the stars of Broadway’s current hot ticket, Hamilton: Leslie Odom Jr. (Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical), Daveed Diggs (Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical), and Renée Elise Goldsberry (Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical). The fourth, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, went to The Color Purple’s lead actress Cynthia Erivo, for her work in the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel of the same name. These wins are huge.
They stand out even more when you consider the casts and origins of these plays. Hamilton is written and directed by Puerto Rican-American Lin-Manuel Miranda, with a cast full of actors, singers, and dancers of color. The Color Purple is based on the work of a queer black female writer and features a 100 percent all-black cast. Odom, Diggs, Goldsberry, and Erivo weren’t lone representatives of “diversity” — they were part of productions focused on allowing talented actors of color to shine.
The last time the Tony Awards saw anything even close to this was during the 1982 awards, when lead actors from Dreamgirls (which had an all-black principal cast) took home awards for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Featured Actor.
Since then, Broadway’s diversity has thankfully increased, as seen in shows like the George Takei-authored Allegiance, whose predominantly Asian/Asian-American cast tells the story of Japanese-American internment camps during World War II, and Spring Awakening, which features a largely deaf cast and the first Broadway actress to use a wheelchair. However, attempts to foreground people of color on stage are still met with resistance in the year of our Lord 2k16. Just a few months ago, a Hamilton casting call for “non-white actors” drew accusations of reverse racism, which as we all know, is not a thing. Fighting the persistent whiteness of Broadway is what makes these wins for Diggs, Erivo, Odom, and Goldsberry so significant.
This celebration of diverse talent was particularly poignant given the real-life tragedy unfolding in Orlando, where 50 people were murdered at an LGBT club’s Latin night. Miranda, who won the Best Original Score Tony for Hamilton, drove this home by reading out a sonnet for his wife and the victims during his acceptance speech. When people seek to destroy those who are different, these celebrations of diverse talent are a much-needed reminder that many out there can still care and love.