There is a celebration happening over on Instagram. Among the selfies, influencers, and aspirational lifestyle images, the talented “Black Women of Broadway” are taking center stage. Co-founders Amber Iman, Jocelyn Bioh, and Danielle Brooks are honoring the legacy of Black women on the Main Stem and beyond with historic images of legends like Patti LaBelle on the theatrical stage, contemporary milestones like Brittney Johnson’s debut as the first Black woman to play Glinda on Broadway, and more, all in a joyous tribute to the community.
It’s not just a commemoration. It’s also a revolution as the Black Women who populate the theatre assume the spotlight, one that has relied heavily on Black talent while simultaneously overlooking and underestimating them. Playbill caught up Iman, Bioh, and Brooks to discuss the new platform as well as the Black women who have inspired each of them.
What prompted you to create this account?
Amber Iman: A few years ago, I was scrolling through one of the digital Broadway platforms on what happened to be opening night of a musical. I was looking at the photos from the red carpet and my heart was broken. For the sake of storytelling, let's say that Tom Hanks was one of the celebrities in attendance. There are eight photos of Mr. Hanks and only one photo of the ensemble, that just happened to be full of Black women. That photo didn't even list their names, it just said, "The cast of....". How insane is that? A platform built for Broadway doesn't even care enough to recognize the artists who just danced and sweat and sang for three hours, who've been working tirelessly for months, years, to bring this show to life.
I remember attending my first Tony Awards for Shuffle Along. I will never forget stepping onto the red carpet and watching all the photographers immediately lower their cameras and check their iPhones. I was in a show, but I wasn't nominated, I wasn't on a TV show, so I didn't matter. I wasn't relevant to them at the moment so I wasn't worth their time.
Black women are some of the hardest working women in the industry. As a whole, Broadway artists aren't recognized or deemed worthy until we "transition" into TV/film, and that's ridiculous. We created this platform to celebrate the rich legacy of Black Women in theatre and to recognize and uplift artists working all across the country, from sound engineers, to costume designers, and everything in between. We plan for the "Black Women on Broadway" account to blossom into an organization rooted in community, access & education, mentorship, and scholarship. Stay tuned!
How did you three come together to create this platform?
Amber Iman: It's all my fault! In my work as an artist and an activist, I am most interested in community building and creating opportunities for cross-generational communication. I've been fortunate to find myself in lots of different rooms, and I always keep my eyes open for women who are bold, fearless, strong, who inspire and challenge me. I also look for women whose strengths are my weaknesses.
Jocelyn Bioh is a woman that I admire so deeply, and want to be like when I grow up. She literally does everything well! She's a phenomenal actor, brilliant writer, and most importantly she brings light and warmth into every room. She's so generous with her time and her knowledge. I feel super blessed that I can call her friend.
Danielle Brooks is a mogul, an icon, and a badass! Watching Danielle move through this industry in a relatively short amount of time is a masterclass in itself. She grabbed a Tony nomination, turned around and produced a Broadway show, and she's winning at motherhood all before she turned 30...I stan! She works hard, she's generous in spirit, and is truly invested in lifting as she climbs.
I didn't really have any of the kinks worked out, but I thought the three of us might be able to create some magic together... and I was right.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the "Black Women of Broadway" account?
Jocelyn Bioh: We are hoping that audiences, namely Black women who work in theatre (but, of course, all are welcome) can have a place to go and feel celebrated and inspired. In this insane time, we are all being forced into moments of introspection and reflection, but also finding ways to reconnect and be reinvigorated by theatre, which we all love and miss so much. We're hoping this Instagram account will do all of that and also educate people on the rich history of Black women in theatre. Not just in New York City, we mean theatre from all over the country. We want Black women who work in theatre from Broadway to Birmingham to Berkeley to be featured. We believe in fostering community and hope that Black women on Broadway will do just that.
If you could share a message to our Black theatre community (both the people who are currently here as well as future Black artists who are on their way), what would you want to say?
Danielle Brooks: I am beyond proud of the Black theatre community, from The Antonyo Awards to Black Theatre United. We are creating our own opportunities and are no longer waiting for someone to give us a seat at the table. We know our worth and are unafraid to demand and create what we deserve for ourselves. And to our future Black artists, continue to work hard, honor those who came before you, and don't wait for anyone to bring your dreams to light. You ignite that flame. Align yourself with people that share your vision, and make it happen.
Take a look at the Black women who have influenced Iman, Bioh, and Brooks and be sure to follow the celebration along on instagram.