The producers of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton have said they regret any confusion over their controversial audition notices seeking "non white" performers. But nothing has changed. They are still looking for non-white performers.
The controversial casting notice was posted on the play's website and on the trade site backstage.com where actors look for work. It soon circulated all over social media with tweets, retweets and Facebook posts that elicited wildly mixed reactions.
To be accused of discrimination is an interesting controversy for the play to be in. The whole point of the play requires that it be strikingly diverse. Now some critics are calling it racist.
The play, written by Nuyorican Lin-Manuel Miranda, tells the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton, the second president of the US, who was born in the Caribbean. A powerful theme of the musical is that the country is a nation of immigrants, and it places Latinos and African Americans in the role of presidents and politicians of the nation as is was being formed. George Washington, for example, is played by a black man — as are Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson. Miranda plays Hamilton. The music blends rap, hip-hop, rhythm and blues, and classic Broadway.
The show's producers said they regretted the confusion the "all non-white" notice may have caused. But they aren't seeking white actors.
"It is essential to the storytelling of "Hamilton" that the principal roles — which were written for non-white characters (excepting King George) — be performed by non-white actors," the producers said in a statement.
"This adheres to the accepted practice that certain characteristics in certain roles constitute a 'bona fide occupational qualification' that is legal. This also follows in the tradition of many shows that call for race, ethnicity or age specific casting, whether it's The Color Purple or Porgy & Bess. The casting will be amended to also include language we neglected to add, that is, we welcome people of all ethnicities to audition for Hamilton." That's not to say all ethnicities will be seriously considered.
Trouble began when actors complained to the Actors Equity Association and the organisation ordered the play to amend the casting call, CBS reports. "All of our calls have the following language: Performers of all ethnic and racial backgrounds are encouraged to attend," the statement said.
Some human rights activists believe the casting call is illegal, regardless of the demands of the play. "I don't know how a producer in the 21st century can think this is OK," Randolph McLaughlin, a civil rights attorney with the Newman & Ferrara law firm, told CNN.
"Even when the intention is obviously good, you can't express racial preference. This is an issue we have been fighting for decades and it started for black people. Imagine if the casting call was for whites only."
Producer Jeffrey Seller reiterated in a statement: "Hamilton depicts the birth of our nation in a singular way. We will continue to cast the show with the same multicultural diversity that we have employed thus far."
An updated casting call kept the phrase "non-white actors," but this time the letters were not all capitalised. Also added was the phrase: "Performers of all ethnic and racial backgrounds are encouraged to attend." The announcement did note the play is not looking for a new King George, the lone traditionally white role.