There's always a lot of news coming at us since we now live in a 24/7 news cycle, and the same is true for Broadway. Something is always happening, shows are opening or closing, there's a new controversy, and people are leaving or joining, all at a breakneck speed. This story starts when the news broke that the incredibly talented Nicolette Robinson would be replacing Katherine McPhee in Waitress as Jenna.
After the exciting news was announced, some members of the theatre community seemed... confused. In particular, I saw one person asking if this meant Dr. Pomatter and Earl would be black now too? The question came as quite a surprise- does it matter? You're willing to go to a show where people sing their feelings, a woman leaves her abusive husband and he doesn't come after her, and you're drawing the line at interracial relationships?
It reminds me of a conversation I had on Facebook, after Disney theatrical released their first peek pictures of Frozen, and a commenter had an almost righteous anger racism on the photo of Jelani Alladin as Kristoff. This person seemed to have deep scandanaivan roots, and was infuriated at the idea that a period place would cast a black man, because apparently, people of color weren't invented until the 1900s.
These people are the worst because they won't listen to reason. When you step into a theatre to see a show, you accept a certain suspension of disbelief. You're accepting a duet to solve deepset problems, a carefully choerographed number to send a message, and a world of anachronisms, in a made up place, ruled by magic. But you just can't take that extra step to accept black people. But why would they listen to those facts when, to quote Philip DeFranco, you can use your feelings as facts?
The theatre is not for those who don't have an imagination. If you're deadset on staying in a seat in New York while the rest of the theatre goes to a vague Scandanivan location then theatre is an expensive hobby you will not enjoy. Maybe Jelani Alladin's family don't come from Scandanavian ice sellers, but ten to one Patti Murin's not descended from Scandanaivan royalty, and that's okay with you?
The only roles for black people are not civil rights fighters and slaves and they shouldn't be! They should be allowed to play waitresses and princesses and high school queen bees and any other role. If the race of the role doesn't matter, neither should the race of the actor playing the role. For so long, black actors have been offered only scraps of roles, that the fact that Nicolette gets to make her Broadway debut with such a fulfilling role, with songs so beautiful and meaingful such as What Baking Can Do or She Used To Be Mine is something we should all be happy to see!
And that we get a black Disney prince (and occasionally a black Disney princess, since Aisha de Haas is Patti Murin's standby) is huge! These are things that white people have had for so long, we take it for granted. We've never doubted that we could be a princess or a prince, because we've always had it to look for. To deny other races that on your historical accuracy card while ignoring everything else that doesn't line up is more than just immature: it's selfish.
(Photo credit: Deen van Meer)