Zoë Kaplan

Diversity is not only a buzzword on college campuses, it’s alive in the world of theater, too.  A recent study of the 2015-16 Broadway season showed that diversity on the New York City stages has increased, with 35 percent of roles going to minority actors.

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Learn more about The Bechdel Test here.

This number is nearly 15 percent above the previous season’s diversity, and strides upward from the 24 percent of inclusivity from the years before that.  These statistics are thanks to new shows like ‘Hamilton’ and ‘On Your Feet!’, as well as the revival of ‘The Color Purple.’

‘On Your Feet!’ and ‘The Color Purple’ provided specific opportunities for Latinx and African-American actors, respectively.  What’s special about Lin Manuel-Miranda’s ‘Hamilton’ is that it not only put people of color in the spotlight, but it also placed them in roles stereotypically reserved for white actors.

Despite these advances, Broadway’s new push toward inclusivity and diversity isn’t making the leaps and bounds we think it is.  Minority actors claim more roles, but the statistics still don’t represent the numbers in the population of those who live around the theaters.  The New York Times states that minorities make up 56 percent of New York City’s population; that’s 21 percent more than the 35 percent of minorities represented on Broadway.

When we break down the statistics, representation in specific groups gets more complicated.  While overall minority representation increased, the amount of Asian actors decreased to four percent.  In plays, they represent even less than that, as minority actors only landed 16 percent of non-musical roles.  14 percent of those went to African-American actors.

What happens when we look beyond the lens of race?  We praise ‘Hamilton’ for bringing diversity to the stage, but many debate whether it even passes the Bechdel test, a baseline examination for inclusivity of women in a work of fiction.  In its simplest form, the Bechdel test claims that two or more women must appear in the piece and have at least one conversation that isn’t about a man. ‘Hamilton’ runs nearly three hours, but doesn’t seem to include much space for a non-male-centered discussion.  Deciding whether the show passes the Bechdel test comes down to a line-by-line reading of ‘The Schuyler Sisters’, just one of the 46 songs in the show.  Led by the show’s three main women, the song discusses revolution in New York, but in the context of ‘looking for a mind at work’: otherwise known as an intelligent man.

The Bechdel test was applied to the top 50 Hollywood movies of 2017 and found that only two-thirds passed what seems like a low bar.  In response, FiveThirtyEight asked women in film and television what they think the next Bechdel test should be.  One wanted a non-white, female-identifying person on screen who spoke English; another wished for a black women in a position of power; one new test thought movies should fail if a primary female character ends up dead, pregnant, or a plot problem for a male antagonist.  After analyzing current Hollywood movies against these new policies, not even half made the cut.  For the woman who wanted at least one unsexualized female Latina lead with unaccented English, all 50 failed - even Zootopia, who featured Shakira, but as a sexualized deer character.

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We must work to shatter our traditional plot lines and expand our range of experiences we share.

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A few of the women interviewed thought of women offstage, in positions of creative power or on the crew.  These ideas are integral when hoping to increase diversity on camera or on stage. How do we expect to include more women in the spotlight when men overwhelm casting decisions?  Or work to give people of color opportunities when white individuals control the production arena?  Our initiative to include more minority groups does not begin and end on the stage.  It starts with writers who mold opportunities and work with creators not only include, but also welcome minorities to the stage.

The battle to achieve diversity does not stop with race and gender, or even the generalizations and binaries that come with these two categories.  From sexuality, to age, class, ability, and religion, we must work to shatter our traditional plot lines and expand our range of experiences we share.  Theatre is about telling stories; why shouldn’t they be the ones of all the people around us?

 

Zoe is a current sophomore at Wesleyan University majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. To read more of her writing, please visit www.writersblock.space or The Wesleyan Argus.

Comments (1)

  1. Angelina Eimannsberger

Thank you for this Zoe! Great background and context to such an important topic Reese Whiterspoon's production company Hello Sunshine is another good example of women taking charge.

 

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