Hamilton, which has been praised for its bold casting policy of using ethnically diverse actors to play the mainly white Founding Fathers—a move that has captivated audiences and emboldened minority actors—may have stepped over the line in a recent casting notice, according to a civil rights attorney.
According to a CBS News report, the attorney, Randolph McLaughlin of the Newman Ferrara Law Firm slammed a recent casting notice specifying that the show was seeking “non-white” performers. He said the notice may violate the New York City Human Rights Law that forbids discrimination in hiring based on race. Actors Equity Association also questioned the wording of the notice.
However, Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller issued a statement the evening of March 30, defending the notice, but also promising to amend its language. “Hamilton depicts the birth of our nation in a singular way. We will continue to cast the show with the same multicultural diversity that we have employed thus far.”
The full statement included the following: "The producers of Hamilton regret the confusion that's arisen from the recent posting of an open call casting notice for the show. It is essential to the storytelling of Hamilton that the principal roles— which were written for non-white characters (excepting King George)—be performed by non-white actors. This adheres to the accepted practice that certain characteristics in certain roles constitute a ‘bona fide occupational qualification‘ that is legal. This also follows in the tradition of many shows that call for race, ethnicity or age specific casting, whether it's The Color Purple or Porgy & Bess or Matilda. The casting will be amended to also include language we neglected to add, that is, we welcome people of all ethnicities to audition for Hamilton. ”
No specific legal complaint has been filed against the show with the New York Commission on Human rights so far. But McLaughlin told CBS, “What if they put an ad out that said, ‘Whites only need apply? Why, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians would be outraged.”
CBS quoted a show press representative saying the wording had been approved by Actors Equity Association, the actors union, but the union's general counsel was quoted denying that.
Equity spokesperson Maria Somma told Playbill.com, “The Hamilton call on their website is inconsistent with Equity's policy. All of our calls have the following language: ‘Performers of all ethnic and racial backgrounds are encouraged to attend.’ We also have strong language in our Production Contract agreement which states, ‘The parties hereto affirm their commitment to the policy that employment hereunder shall be without discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, creed, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression or political persuasion or belief. Consistent with the foregoing and with the procedure set forth in Rule 5(E)(4), it is the intention of the parties that the casting of productions will be conducted in a manner which provides equal and fair consideration to all Actors including, but not limited to: Actors with disabilities, ethnic minorities, seniors and women.’”
Producer Jeffrey Seller was quoted saying, “I stand by it and believe it to be legal." The production is cast by Telsey + Co.