Outer Critics Circle Awards Reveal Broadway's 2017 Diversity Problem

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Editor-in-Chief

Last year's Tonys featured a historic moment when all four musical acting categories were won by Black performers. A year before that, Ruthie Ann Miles became the first Asian actress to win a Tony since Lea Salonga. The year before that, Audra McDonald won her unprecedented sixth Tony Award. That same year fellow Black performers Sophie Okonedo, James Monroe Iglehart also won Tonys. In addition to the individual awards we've also seen a slew of productions with majority performer of color casts. Shows like Hamilton, Shuffle Along, Allegiance, The King & I, The Color Purple, Eclipsed and Raisin in the Sun showed that Broadway's trend of producing diverse material was going upward. 

However, as 2017 approached, many performers of color and colleagues of mine wondered if that momentum would be halted. If the Outer Critics Circle awards are any indication, it looks as though we were right. 

This week the Outer Critics Circle announced the nominees for their 2017 awards and out of all the acting nominations, only two performers of color were nominated. That would be David Oyelowo for Othello and Nana Mensah from Man From Nebraska. The musical acting categories however, feature an all-white cast. 

It's a bit surprising that the Outer Critics failed to nominate a single performer of color in the musical acting categories. They ignored the likes of Tracie Thoms in Falsettos, Phillipa Soo from Amelie and both Eva Noblezada and Jon Jon Briones from Miss Saigon. Also, given the unconventional timeline of eligibility for these awards, they failed to nominate a single performer from Shuffle Along. 

Now before anyone starts criticizing the Outer Critics Circle, notice above, that when it came to the amount of performers of color that were overlooked, it's a handful. That's the larger problem. 

Awards committees need a larger pool of performers of color to nominate and 2017 Broadway failed to produce it. Given the upward trend over the past couple of years, that's very disappointing. I do think that this year's Tonys will add a bit more diversity to its nominations but probably not much. I can only hope that the tides change. So far I'm encouraged by seeing planned revivals of M. Butterfly and Once On This Island but not much else.