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Diversity on Broadway? Not when it comes to playwrights

Diversity on Broadway? Not when it comes to playwrights
[Photo: Green Chameleon/Unsplash]

Every once in a while, I’ll come across a story about how Broadway is so much cooler and hipper and more diverse than Hollywood, and sure, all those things feel very true and worth celebrating. But actual statistics have a way of sobering up a celebration.

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The Asian American Performers Action Coalition (AAPAC) released its annual demographics report for people working in New York City theater yesterday, and some of the numbers are truly dismal. For the first time this year, the group included non-performer roles like playwrights, composers, directors, and lyricists. It found that 95% of all plays and musicals produced on Broadway last season were written by white playwrights.

Yes, if you saw a new Broadway show at any point during the 2016-2017 season, it’s almost guaranteed to have been written by a white person. As for the director’s chair, that’s job is similarly homogenous, with 95% of Broadway plays and musicals directed by white directors during the season.

It’s hard to compare Broadway and Hollywood directly since the former is a limited industry where only about 32 shows are playing at any given time. But when you measure diversity among stage performers against their on-screen counterparts, Broadway does not fare much better than Hollywood. AAPAC found that 71% of all performers in shows produced during the 2016-2017 season were white. That’s basically identical to the movie business, where 70.7% of all on-screen characters in 2017 were white, according to the annual inclusion report from USC Annenberg.

It’s important to point out that AAPAC’s report only includes new shows produced during the season, not every show currently up and running. And because the data is from last season, it misses some breakthrough shows. For instance, Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men, which premiered in 2018, marked the first Broadway play ever written by an Asian-American female playwright.

Still, the overwhelming homogeny, especially among playwrights and directors, is a reminder that Broadway’s often-lauded diversity is more stage myth than fact.

You can check out AAPAC’s full report here.

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