A Hamilton discrimination case has been presented in a most unusual role reversal after its casting call sought only “non-white” actors and appears to violate human rights law. The Broadway musical has drawn widespread praise for its use of a diverse cast to explore American history.
The official Hamilton casting notice asked for “non-white men and women, ages 20s to 30s” to audition, because a major selling point of the musical is its cast full of black and Latino performers, according to New York Daily News.
Attorney Randolph McLaughlin, of Newman Ferrara Law Firm, argues that the open call is discriminatory. “What if they put an ad out that said, ‘Whites only need apply?'” he said. “Why, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians would be outraged.”
The Broadway union, Actors Equity, requires producers to fill roles with a “full and fair consideration to actors of all ethnicities.” A press rep for Hamilton claims the union approved the notice, and the show’s producer Jeffrey Seller says, “I stand by it and believe it to be legal.”
The press representative for the show said the language in the notice, “seeking non-white performers,” was approved by Actors Equity. But the union general counsel denied that, saying such language was not and would not be approved. And in fact, the audition notice approved by the union welcomes performers of “all ethnicities” to audition.
A New York City law bars discrimination based on race in employment advertising
“You cannot advertise showing that you have a preference for one racial group over another,” says McLaughlin. “As an artistic question-sure, he can cast whomever he wants to cast, but he has to give every actor eligible for the role an opportunity to try.”
So far the discrimination case has not been seen by the city Commission on Human Rights, and they said it has not received a complaint about the ad. They would not say if it is investigating.
The dispute is in some ways semantic — audition descriptions of many of the characters in “Hamilton,” as for other Broadway shows, often specify the race, gender and age range of the characters, and that is standard practice in the theater industry. But Actors’ Equity said that auditions should be open to anyone.
At the end of the day, the Hamilton producers said that they would change the posting that had drawn criticism, to make it clear that people of all ethnicities are welcome to audition, but would not back away from the show’s commitment to hire a diverse cast.