Broadway, hair, wig, 1776, production, Zuri Washington

Black Actor Sues For Racial Discrimination After Being Denied Wig On Broadway Tour

A Black actor is suing a Broadway play she accuses of discrimination and retaliation over her hair preferences. 

A Black actor is suing a Broadway play she accuses of discrimination and retaliation over her hair preferences. 

Actress Zuri Washington was axed from her role on the Broadway revival of “1776,” a diversely cast play around the white, male Founding Fathers and how they finalized the Declaration of Independence, LA Times reports. Washington, who played the role of Robert Livingston, filed a lawsuit this week accusing the tour’s production companies, NETworks Presentations and 1776 Touring, and several of their employees of retaliating against her after she complained about her hair preferences that she claims went ignored. 

Washington claims she was terminated after threatening to submit a formal report of discrimination.

“I was made to feel like I did something wrong in the course of this entire experience, and I know I didn’t do anything wrong,” Washington says. 

“I could have done things differently, perhaps. But what they did to me is like a legal version of tone-policing, and like I’m being constantly punished for existing and telling my truth.”

Washington recalls contacting the tour’s management about finalizing a hair plan after she was cast as Livingston in December 2022. The actress says she told the tour’s associate hair designer about her discomfort with wearing her natural hair onstage and instead requested a wig or a braided protective style for her locs.

“I love my natural hair, but [producers] don’t realize what wearing my natural hair for eight shows a week entails,” she says.

Washington once appeared in the stage play for “Hairspray” and recalls how altitude, temperature, and humidity changes damaged her natural hair.

“I was devastated — my hair almost fell out of my head, and I had to cut it to my ears,” she recalls. “I promised myself, never again would I leave the fate of my hair, something that’s so close to me and that I care about so much, up to other people. And given the ethos of the production, I was hoping I would feel secure and supported by the team behind the scenes.”

Washington says her email requests regarding her hair went ignored, and she was unaware of her hair plan until she arrived at the tour’s first stop in Utica, N.Y., in February 2023. She noticed how multiple white actors in the cast were provided with wigs, including someone Washington says didn’t even request one, while she and other actors of color who requested wigs were denied.

“Black hair has been a hot-button issue within the theatrical community for many years now so, at this point, it feels like willful ignorance,” she continues. “You’re putting us in these productions, but you’re not taking care of us, and it ends up imbuing harm on our spirits and our bodies that we have to use eight shows a week.”

Following a meeting with a human resources member, Washington says she was told she would have to file a formal complaint of discrimination with her union. 

“Yes, I will, because this is the only course of action available to me and I’m going to do it,” the lawsuit says she told the HR rep in response. “I’ll take these f— down that way if I have to. I’ve taken bigger f— down before and I’ll do it again. So yes, I will be filing an official complaint with HR.”

Washington is filing her lawsuit in response to being sent a termination letter that claimed she displayed “aggressive, uncontrolled behavior and threatening statements” in the meeting, and her union representatives were later told that Washington was an “immediate safety concern.” Her complaint accuses the touring company of reigniting conversations about the industry’s inequitable treatment of Black hair and the harmful perpetuation of the “angry Black woman” stereotype.