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    A “Big Black and Queer-Ass” Musical Wins At Tony Awards 2022

    Let’s Talk About the Tonys…

    This past Sunday June 12, 2022 CBS aired the live taping of the 75th Annual Tony Awards. The Tonys are the annual awards bestowed upon Broadway’s best and brightest. It is a starry event complete with a red carpet, A-List audience members, and an overly eager, usually super talented host. This year, recent Oscar winner and Broadway darling Ariana DeBose hosted the event. Given Broadway’s pandemic shutdown, the Tony Awards 2022 were truly a celebration and a moment for Black queers. All in attendance seemed proud to be there representing the community’s tireless efforts to keep live theater afloat in a city riddled with Omicron variants in crowded subway cars. The event was truly a night to remember.

    There are, however, some things about the 2022 Tonys that we definitely should not forget.

    CBS and the American Theatre Wing seemed proud to broadcast an Award show honoring the craft and “progressiveness” of this industry. All too often, theater makers in the Big Apple pat themselves on the back for being more socially “in touch” than Hollywood. But just because the theater industry loves to emphasize the optics of diversity and inclusion doesn’t mean New York theater is truly diverse or inclusive at all.

    L Morgan Lee is the first openly trans actor to be nominated for a Tony Award for her work in the newly awarded Best Musical of 2022 A Strange Loop . This was mentioned not less than three times during the broadcast on Sunday. It absolutely should be acknowledged that L Morgan Lee created theater history this season. In an industry that is seemingly and historically welcoming of the LGBTQ+ community, it is surprising that this didn’t happen sooner. L Morgan Lee did that, and she deserves to be celebrated for it.

    Unfortunately, all of the hype surrounding Lee’s well deserved nomination felt sort of anticlimactic when the American Theatre Wing honored Broadway legend Patti LuPone with the award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical instead.

    Patti LuPone is one of the greatest Broadway actors of all time. In fact, prior to Sunday, she had already earned two Tony awards! There is no question that her performance as Joanne in the late Stephen Sondheim’s Company deserved praise. But something about her win didn’t add up. The Tony broadcast centered that category around the magnificent triumph of L Morgan Lee’s career thus far. So why didn’t they give her the award after all?

    Sure, Patti LuPone is simply that good. But with two Tonys under her belt already, it would be nice if the American Theatre Wing realized it was time to share the wealth.

    Michael R. Jackson’s Second Tony Moment

    And speaking of cis white women taking up space, what was up with Barbara Whitman? Barbara Whitman is a Broadway producer. She, along with superstars like Billy Porter, RuPaul, and Jennifer Hudson, produced the 2022 Best Musical by Michael R. Jackson: A Strange Loop . The award for Best Musical is the pinnacle of the Tony Awards. It’s an honor that can help a show sell tickets for years. “Best Musical” is always announced as the awards ceremony’s finale.

    When the team of fresh Tony winners assembled onstage, complete with EGOT winner Jennifer Hudson and writer Michael R. Jackson who had just won Best Book of a Musical for his 20-year long passion project. Yet, it was producer Barbara Whitman who took the microphone. She was gracious and thoughtful and thanked her kids. But Michael R. Jackson, the person without whom A Strange Loop wouldn’t exist, didn’t get to speak.

    “We have not solved all of our problems,”

    Producers often will give the acceptance speech on behalf of the company. But in a show described as the ‘​​big, Black, and queer-ass Great American Musical for all!” why, then, is the skinny, white, straight woman doing all the talking?

    Host Ariana DeBose said early in the night , “The phrase ‘The Great White Way’ is becoming more of a nickname as opposed to a how-to guide.” She also said, “we have not solved all of our problems.” As the night continued, the progress was palpable, but the problems were too.

    The theater industry and awards shows in general need to put their money where their mouth is. And maybe the rich, white producers should put their mouths somewhere next to the microphone instead of behind it. What is an “inclusivity mission statement” worth if the same people have seats at the table reserved for them over and over again?

    What’s Next For The Tonys?

    The Tonys and all awards shows need to recognize how much power their awards have in the entertainment industry. An award winning artist gets more job opportunities than an undiscovered star. So if the same actors keep winning the awards, the cycle of people who have access to power staying in power continues. It goes without saying, but come on Tonys! If the theater industry wants to truly be as inclusive and diverse as it claims to appear, then it’s beyond time to break that cycle.

    As the expectation remains for greater recognition and inclusion in theater, hats off to Black queer creatives who will make waves in the future!

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