August Wilson Assails Colorblind Casting


08 Sep 1996

Two-time Pulitzer-winning playwright August Wilson used a Princeton University address on black culture in America to attack veteran director/essayist Robert Brustein and, more fundamentally, the whole notion of color-blind casting.



Two-time Pulitzer-winning playwright August Wilson used a Princeton University address on black culture in America to attack veteran director/essayist Robert Brustein and, more fundamentally, the whole notion of color-blind casting.

The address was reprinted in the current (September 1996) issue of American Theatre magazine. Brustein will get a chance to respond in a future issue.

Wilson has one black and one white parent, but has said that he identifies mainly with his African heritage, which he has expressed in plays including Fences, The Piano Lesson, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and others including Seven Guitars, which closes on Broadway Sept. 8. Wilson was attacking the trend to cast actors in roles regardless of their race.

"Colorblind casting is an aberrant idea that has never had any validity other than as a tool of Cultural Imperialists who view American culture , rooted in the icons of European culture, as beyond reproach in its perfection . . . ," he wrote.

"To mount an all-black production of a Death of a Salesman or any other play conceived for white actors as an investigation of the human condition through the specifics of white culture is to deny us our own humanity, our own history, and the need to make our own investigation from the cultural ground on which we stand as black Americans. It is an assault on our present, our difficult but honorable history in America; is an insult to our intelligence, our playwrights, and our many and varied contributions to the society and the world at large."

Wilson proposes that more support be given to black theatres and other cultural institutions. "We do not need colorblind casting," he wrote, "we need some theatres to develop our playwrights."

These quotes are a tiny sampling of the full address, headlined "The Ground on Which I Stand," which goes on for several full pages in the magazine, dealing with many aspects of the issue.

Wilson's address crystallizes points he has been articulating for several years.

As a moderately interesting sidelight, Wilson's collaborator and mentor, director Lloyd Richards, succeeded Brustein as Dean of the Yale School of Drama in 1980, and Brustein has written derisively of Richards and his policies in The New Republic and other journals.

-- By Robert Viagas