Broadway Boss Moves: 4 Actors of Color Changing the Game

Cicely Tyson, Billy Porter, Patina Miller, Courtney B. Vance part of history-changing year

Cicely Tyson was awarded a Tony for her role in "The Trip to Bountiful." (Image: File)

Sunday’s CBS-telecast of the Tony Awards displayed history as four African Americans win awards—the first time, according to reports, four black actors have simultaneously won since 1982’s Dreamgirls.

The winners included legendary Cicely Tyson (The Trip to Bountiful), honored for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play,” making her the oldest person to win a Tony at age 79. Others were Billy Porter (Kinky Boots), winner for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical;” Patina Miller (Pippin), who won for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical”; and Courtney B. Vance (Lucky Guy), winner for “Best Performance by an Actor in a featured Role in a Play.” Tyson and Miller both won awards in roles that were not written for black women.

“I have never seen characters as ‘black’ or ‘white,’ and I believe that people who saw my casting as a gimmick-well, that’s there limitation,” Tyson said Monday. “Because I’m black doesn’t make me any less human. The Tonys honored all of us for playing our characters as human beings.”

Casting minority actors in traditionally white roles has been common for decades, with the belief that it will offer a fresh perspective on a classic. This is evident in the forthcoming Broadway revival of Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad, who was nominated for a supporting role this year in “Bountiful,” starring as Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, respectively. This will be the first Broadway rendition of the classic Shakespeare play since 1986. The director, David Leveaux, has said he seeks “to reflect real life rather than make a comment on race,” in terms of casting choices. The race dynamic will surely add a 21-century flare that many people will hopefully relate better to.

However, even with the historic win for black actors, another underlying issue was vividly present—the lack of roles for other minorities. Hispanic director Tlaloc Rivas said via Twitter, “The TONYs will never look like America until Latinos, Asians & others beyond the B/W spectrum are represented as well.”

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