racism and colorism in musical theater + fandom

I’m about to lose some followers, but hey, that happens!

First of all, I just wanted to say that this isn’t a call-out post!! Rather, this is a space in which I point out some things I’ve noticed, and where you can tell me whether my conclusions seem fair or not.

To start, I want everyone to take a moment to look at this post, as well as the comments and reblogs. The original is about DeMarius Copes’ livestreams getting overrun by fans asking for Ben Tyler Cook; the additions are about similar situations with other actors. 

First of all, that’s just disrespectful. However, it’s also worth noting than in almost every case, it’s a white actor being favored over a black actor (in the only exception, it’s a Latinx actor being favored over a mixed-race black actor in Hamilton. More on that later.)

Bottom line: it’s time to talk about racism and colorism on Broadway and in fandom.

Originally posted by amazingmsme

Of course, it’s always been happening on Broadway, but now that a lot of it is subtle/internalized rather than overt, I think we need to get better at recognizing it. With more and more diverse shows taking stage, it’d be easy to get complacent, but I think our work is far from through!

Let’s look at three shows that have been through enough casts, and that have big enough fandoms, that it’s fair to look for patterns in terms of fan engagement and character depictions. First, The Book of Mormon:

Okay, honestly, this one is kind of self-explanatory. I’m pretty sure we’re all aware of it on some level. I’m talking about the exclusion of the villagers in fandom. Honestly, it makes no sense because other than the major characters, all we get of the Elders in terms of individual personalities is…two verses of “Turn it Off” and one line about pop-tarts? And yet, fandom is able to come up with so much material for each of the Elders.

Whereas with the villagers (especially the women!!!), we get a ton of witty lines and rich backstories and high drama and psychological complexity, but hardly any fanworks are devoted to them.

The show itself is a satire of colonialism and racism. Now, how well the show accomplishes that end is definitely a valid topic of debate, but my point is this: if you’re constantly favoring the white male characters and actors over everyone else, you’re missing the entire point of the musical.

That being said, WHERE are my Mafala moodboards and Kimbay headcanons? Also…where’s the fandom for literally any of the black actors who have ever been in the show…? Do we even bother to learn their names?

Originally posted by dragonsareawesome123

And now let’s take a look at Les Misérables. We’re in different territory here because unlike in The Book of Mormon, none of the characters are explicitly written as POC. Thus, it’s critical to look at which characters are being portrayed by POC.

Broadway’s first black Éponine was in 1997. Its first black Javert was 2006. And its first black Valjean was in 2015 (but as an understudy, not as a principal). To my knowledge, Broadway hasn’t seen a black Cosette on yet; the first black principal Cosette in any major English language production only took the stage this year, on West End.

My point is this: if you put the characters on a spectrum of “grittiness”–we could even say aggressiveness–that’s the exact order that we got black actors cast in those roles. And that’s pretty much the frequency with which we get POC in those roles, too. 

And this pattern of “casting” extends to fan depictions of characters, too. On the whole, fandom does an BRILLIANT job of reclaiming stories and making them more representative of the world around us. However, in fanart, I see lots of POC Éponine, Grantaire, and Javert (which I love!!!), but predominantly white Enjolras, Valjean, and Cosette. 

A clear message is being sent: a black woman can be the tough girl on the streets, but not the angelic love interest. And when a character is described as a drunken cynic, we’re totally able to picture them as a POC, but when a character is described as a charismatic leader, a “flower,” and a god, we’re only able to see them as a white person.

(Also, don’t think it escaped my notice that Victor Hugo explicitly calls both Éponine and Grantaire ugly. Enjolras and Cosette are described as beautiful.)

Originally posted by pontmerciii

((On a lighter note, I am begging all of you to just LOOK AT KYLE SCATLIFFE. Also, HIS VOICE. MY HEART.))

Oh, and on the note of Enj, since he’s arguably the fandom’s most popular character: I know we’re attached to him being blond, but 1. POC can be blond!! and 2. might I suggest that POC can have beautiful hair, too?

Even in shows that are written to be diverse, there are still very uncomfortable racial dynamics going on. Let’s look at Hamilton: both its casting and its fandom.

For one thing, Eliza. She’s very often Asian and/or lighter-skinned, while Angelica and Peggy/Maria are often black. Are Asian women only allowed to be the the devoted (and passive) wife, but never the sharp-witted older sister or the beautiful seductress? (And as in the case with Cosette, are we again less inclined to see black women as goodhearted redemptive figures?)

I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing some mild stereotyping going on here. Like, I love Miss Saigon, too, but can we stop perpetuating the cultural narrative of naïve Asian women giving everything they have for a man, and then getting abandoned?!

A bigger issue that I see, though, lies with the fandom. For those of you who don’t know what colorism is, that’s totally fine!! It’s definitely not talked about enough. Colorism is the favoring of people with lighter skin, and importantly, this can happen even within and among marginalized groups.

And here’s why it’s a problem in Hamilton. This thread about Hamilton fandom’s favoring of certain actors over others puts it much better than I can (and deserves WAY MORE NOTES). An excerpt:

Also, y’all…this is kind of off-topic, but kind of not. Can we make an effort to properly spell and pronounce Oak’s name?

Originally posted by virtuousfantine

If any of these examples were isolated incidents, I would hesitate to cry racism. However, when it’s a pattern repeated across so many shows and across so many fandoms, we have to look more deeply at what’s really going on.

A single instance of casting is not the problem. Of course an Asian woman can play Eliza! Of course Enjolras can be white! The problem is that they’re not also being portrayed any other way.

Writing or drawing a character as white is not the problem!! Seriously, depict characters however you see them! The problem is that they’re not also being depicted as people of color. 

Having favorite actors who are white is not the problem! Of course you can love whichever actors you find talented and attractive! The problem is many, many fans not also having favorites who are people of color.

If, in fandom in general, a character is never portrayed a certain way–if, in fandom, actors of certain races or skin colors are consistently less favored than their white colleagues–that’s when we need to stop and examine why. 

Originally posted by enjols

We can’t ask for diversity and then, when we get it, proceed to consistently ignore people of color. Representation doesn’t exist to clear our consciences as we continue to fangirl over white boys. Representation exists to give people the chance to see themselves reflected by an art form that claims to be universal.

I know that it’s sometimes not intuitive to picture POC in certain social roles. We’ve internalized so much toxic media representation, and the aforementioned casting patterns have only perpetuated that. But fandom is the place where we reclaim and rewrite the story, isn’t it? Let’s enable ourselves to imagine better representation than what we have.

Moving on - we get a scene where, while on the barricade, Éponine muses on how she always wanted what Cosette had - first Catherine and now Marius. (Also love the implication that Marius is basically Cosette’s shiny new doll.)

…Not related to anything, but uhh Enjolras, darling, I get tying something red around your waist, but this is not so much a piece of cloth signifying your loyalties, but a very weirdly worn cape or a skirt.

Things proceed by and large as they did in the book - Enjolras tells Grantaire to go be a disgrace somewhere else, Prouvaire recites a poem… and then we get the first attack, Mabeuf’s and Bahorel’s death, Marius’s Big Damn Hero moment and Éponine’s sacrifice.

Poor, poor Ponine, her passing is really touchingly done.

After Marius gets the letter, send Gavroche away with the answer and mentally says goodby to Cosette we shift back inside the Corinth where the wounded and the dead are gathered. And while the boys are saying goodby to Bahorel, Javert speaks up. He probably started out trying to demoralise them, but with very little prompting, he just… straight up turns himself in.

Like.

Javert, my guy.

Enjolras didn’t even have to use his Cunning Cross-Questioning Technique from the book (are you a cop??) he just asked who he was and out came everything - name, rank, job description.

Like.

I get that you can’t lie, but did you ever hear about ‘witholding information’???

Javert is promptly tied up. I honestly don’t know what he expected. 

guide to singing along to musicals alone

Be More Chill: sing along to ALL the instrumentals.

The Book of Mormon: passionately yell the lines. Then glance out the window awkwardly to make sure no one’s listening. Then resume passionately yelling. Awkwardly go quiet when you hear people passing your door. Repeat.

Dear Evan Hansen: two modes: either humming the songs peacefully to yourself or jumping to your feet, perfectly executing the “Sincerely, Me” dance and also doing all of Ben Platt’s physical tics and waiting for your Tony.

Falsettos: *singing along happily for hundredth time* *abruptly stops* What does that line even mean

Hamilton: there is literally only one way to do it: singing along to all the parts at once and incorporating all the furniture in the room for maximum effect.

The Last Five Years: have a hundred tabs open with the lyrics. It would be one of the easiest musicals to sing along to alone if there weren’t so many goddamn words.

Les Misérables: reconcile yourself to the fact that it’s physically impossible to sing along to all the parts. You gotta just pick a character to sing with. Which is actually fine, because most Les Mis fans have this one character that’s “their” character. And there’s probably only one character who’s in your range, anyway. I mean, you can try to sing along to all the parts, but prepare to get absolutely slaughtered in “One Day More.”

Newsies: whatever you do, just don’t try to dance along. Please.

Next to Normal: *singing along happily for hundredth time* *abruptly stops* Whoa. That line is really clever/weird/sad/beautiful.

The Phantom of the Opera: AHHHHH aaahhhh ahhhh ahhhHHHH SING MY ANGEL OF MUSIC AHHHH ahhhh ahhh hahhhHHHHH sing mY ANGEL ahhh hahhhhhhh ahhhhHHHHH SING FOR MEEEE AHHHHH HHHHHHHH HAHHHHH HHHHHH HHHHHHHHHHHHHHH SING MY ANGEL HHHHHHHH Ś̹̗̝̠̫I͓̻̰̲N̢̠͕G̦̬͟ ̲F̳̫̦̜̭̰O͙̹̪͕̞͉͟R̩̭̦ ̛̠͚̰M̫͍̬͇͈̖EE̖̙̬̳̞̞̹È̖E͈EE͏E̗̞̲͍̰̕E̗̙̬̻̭Ḛ̫͉̗̜ aaʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰʰ

Rent: ALL the air guitar.

Spring Awakening: *forgets lyric* 🎶 lonely grass purple horses hay bale 🎶

Waitress: wait until “I Didn’t Plan It” and “She Used to Be Mine,” and then let out YEARS of pain and sadness

Wicked: *searches on YouTube* how to belt

Is your life just one more lie?

My very first Barricade Day piece, click for better quality! instagram

musicals as Kid Gorgeous bits

last night, I finally watched Kid Gorgeous for the first time and it was the best decision ever

1776: I don’t remember THAT in Hamilton!

Avenue Q: an ENGLISH MAJOR

Be More Chill: You spend most of your day telling a robot that you’re not a robot. Think about that for two minutes and tell me that you don’t want to walk into the ocean.

The Book of Mormon: Get the fuck out of here with your technicalities. Just ’cause you’re accurate does not mean you’re interesting. *also* God can’t hear you.

Dear Evan Hansen: Do My Friends Hate Me or Do I Just Need to Go to Sleep?

Hamilton: When I walk down the street, I need everybody, all day long, to like me so much. It’s exhausting. 

Les Misérables: 🎶Bread is god is bread🎶

The Mad Ones: *about college* By the way, I agreed to give them $120,000 when I was 17 years old. With no attorney present. That’s illegal. They tricked me.

Mean Girls: “What’s a clique?” “It’s when a group of people hang out together.” “Oh, you mean like having friends?” “No, because these people make fun of other people.” “Oh, you mean like having friends?”  

Next to Normal: Was there ever a ghost, mother, or was the dead Victorian girl you saw just me all along?

Something Rotten: Of all the sentences in that email I would be ashamed to have read out loud in a court of law, I think the top one is ‘See you at improv practice.’

the avengers’ favorite musicals:

tony stark: heathers

steve rogers: hamilton

bucky barnes: book of mormon

clint barton: be more chill

bruce banner: dear evan hansen

natasha romanoff: les miserables

thor: grease

loki: wicked

peter parker: a very potter musical

it’s barricade day again and what a fine day to remember that jean valjean saved all of les amis and then adopted each and every one of them + eponine and gavroche and pulled javert out of the seine and took his hand to lead him to a life of ohsomany feels and cuddles and a family and happiness and love

yes happy barricade day mes amis

why you’re still single based on your favorite musicals

Mean Girls: you don’t let yourself be pushed around. You know what kind of love you deserve.

The Book of Mormon: it’s hard to find someone who matches both your sharp wit and your big heart.

The Phantom of the Opera: you’re waiting for someone who aches as profoundly for art and beauty as you do.

Waitress: as someone who always gives so much more than they take, you want to learn to love yourself first.

Be More Chill: your understanding of loyalty is well beyond your years; amongst your peers, you’re always the most mature. Also, you’re probably in love with your best friend.

Heathers: you’re a bit intimidating, honestly. But that’s only because you carry yourself with such conviction and unshakable knowledge of what’s right.

Newsies: you understand that, as de Saint Exupéry wrote, “love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

Wicked: you’re looking for someone who truly complements your strengths and weaknesses, not just someone who flatters you.

Les Misérables: firstly, your friends always come first. Secondly, you’re looking for someone whom you harmonize with morally and spiritually. Thirdly, you sing very loudly in the shower and you’ve scared off all your neighbors.

Falsettos: you know that love is a journey, not a destination.

Sunday in the Park with George: you’re scared that loving someone would mean giving them your entire soul.

Dear Evan Hansen: you’re afraid that if people really knew you, they wouldn’t like you. (Spoiler alert: they already know you. And they love you.)

West Side Story: you’re already married to Chita Rivera.

Hamilton: Lin-Manuel Miranda fucked up your standards forever.

Tuck Everlasting: you turned 18.