Juanita Hall set precedence for future African-American talents when she became the first black entertainer to win a TONY award for South Pacific. She fittingly won Best Supporting Actress for her role as an indigenous Pacific Islander. Since then, 49 Tony Awards have been awarded to black actors and actresses. This year, African Americans transcended racial barriers and won more TONY Awards than ever, reports The Root.
At 79-years-old, Cicely Tyson stood on stage in a ruffled purple dress to accept her first Tony Award of her 50-year legendary career. She took home an award for Best Actress in a Play for her well-received performance in The Trip to Bountiful.
Let’s not forget Billy Porter. He catapulted to stardom for his role in Cyndi Lauper’s Broadway musical, Kinky Boots. The show follows the story of a shoemaker and drag queen struggling to make ends meet. Porter won Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical.
“This is an honor of a lifetime. This is a childhood dream come true to me,” a flustered Patina Miller said during her acceptance speech. She clutched a Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in Pippin.
Courtney B. Vance (the only African American in his category) beat out three other nominees when he took home an award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play for Lucky Guy.
Four African Americans winning in one night isn’t too much a novelty. In 1982, there were four black winners too. However, three of the black actors won for their roles in Dreamgirls, according to The New York Times. Conversely, our current four black winners were spread across four different musicals.
But critics are wondering why there are so many more black TONY Award winners than Academy Award winners. Since 1939, only a measly 14 Academy Awards have been given to black actors and actresses. Some theorists believe that in theater, African-American women and men are more likely to be cast for roles that are not typically “black.” Broadway is more open to expanding lead roles, despite the character’s race, to African Americans. For example, Audra McDonald’s unorthodox role in Carousel is rare in film.
Hollywood is more rigid and casting directors are less open-minded to take a chance in hiring black actors and actresses for traditionally “non-black” roles.
While African Americans around the country are smiling at the major wins at the Tony Awards, theater director Tlaloc Rivas is upset that there aren’t more Latinos and Asians taking home trophies.
“The TONYS will never look like America until Latinos, Asians & others beyond the B/W spectrum are represented as well,” Rivas says on Twitter.
Fear not, Mr. Rivas. This year’s African-American dominated Tony Awards only promises that more minority talent recognition in the future.