Hamilton Improved Diversity For Theater, But Did It Do Enough?

The Schuyler Sisters in Hamilton
(Image credit: (Disney))
(Image credit: (Disney))

In the past few years, Hollywood has been making a significant effort to provide more diverse stories, told and performed by artists from a range of backgrounds. We still have a long way to go, especially in terms of the people in gatekeeper positions in the industry, but there’s a lot that can be celebrated for minorities, including people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community. And the theater industry is also making moves, namely with Hamilton.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rap musical stars people of color across the board and tells the story of the Founding Fathers through a modern lens. But overall, the theater community has only seen a “modest improvement” in the hiring of actors and stage managers from diverse backgrounds in the past three years. Contracts signed by people of color increased by only 8% from 15 to 23%, according to the new Actors’ Equity diversity and inclusion report (via Deadline).

The study noted that the improvement since the previous study from 2017 is “extremely gradual, inconsistent and not enough to change longtime problems in the industry.” Hamilton is noted on its own as promoting change among actors and stage managers in theater.

There’s just not enough happening outside the Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning phenomenon to account for substantial change. For context, Hamilton opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre back in 2015 and has continued to reign there since.

The report also shares that Black men and women represent about half (45.7%) of the increase in people of color hires. Contracts going to women went up only a little over one percent, from 43.5 to 44.9%, with the gender pay gap still largely prominent in the theater community. Non-binary, gender non-conforming individuals and transgender people were also noted in the pay disparity. Only about 1% of contracts were issued to people with disabilities, even though roughly one in four Americans live with one. And less people over the age of 65 were issued contracts in comparison to 2017’s report.

The presence of Hamilton moved the needle, but it cannot exist on its own as theater goes forward. It will inspire more creators and open the door for more diverse stories to be told on the stage, though. There’s clearly a demand for it, considering that since the musical dropped on Disney+ over the summer, it has remained the most-watched new release of the year. It's been in high demand in internationally in places like Brazil, which recently received access without subtitles.

The theater industry is, of course, at a standstill right now with the ongoing pandemic. Theater does, however, continue to live on through streaming for the moment, next with a Netflix adaptation of The Prom coming on December 11. There's also Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights, which is set for theatrical over summer.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.