Leslie Odom Jr. Explains Why Actors of Color Deserve More Than a ‘Rare Moment’ on Broadway

American Theatre Wing's 70th Annual Tony Awards - Meet The Nominees Press Junket
Leslie Odom Jr. Photo: Matthew Eisman/Getty Images

With the celebrated productions of Hamilton, Shuffle Along, and Eclipsed, actors of color are having a moment on Broadway, but it’s still not enough. In a roundtable for The Hollywood Reporter, Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr in Hamilton, discussed the dilemmas that still crop up amid Broadway’s “rare moment” of diversity. “What we really need to pay attention to is the next two seasons,” Odom pointed out. Sure, Hamilton showcases people of color (which, somehow, was briefly controversial), but few other shows have those opportunities. The Great White Way is still very white:

Oftentimes, from my career, I’ve watched my white counterparts and imagine, if you would, if a white actor was having a similar situation as I’m having right now in this show, the kind of success of this show, there might be three or four offers a week for the next shows you’re going to do. There are no shows for me to do. There’s just no roles. You know, especially when you look at an Aaron Burr — you look at the complexity, the humanity in this part. There’s no [comparable] parts for me to play, right? Unless we’re talking about somebody’s going to reimagine something, somebody’s going to let me do a She Loves Me or a Music Man. These are roles that were written for white actors. And so I don’t say that to — I’ll take care of myself. I’ll be fine. I’ll go do music. I’ll go do TV. I’ll go do what I have to do. But I hope what we’re going to see is five, six years from now, the shows that this show [Hamilton] has inspired. There’s young writers now that are being inspired by the show that are going to start writing today. But as far as diversity on Broadway? I’d be interested to see what the next two or three seasons look like, because I don’t hear a whole lot of stuff.

Right now, Broadway is telling more stories about people of color, but it’s still not a place of consistent opportunity for people of color, at least not yet. The system doesn’t change quickly: Producers are generally risk-averse, and it’s easy to stick to an old (very white) repertoire. Plus, the younger writers, performers, and directors who’ve been inspired by this moment haven’t gotten to the point — or been given the chance — to extend the moment into a trend, or eventually, a permanent state. As Odom put it, more color-blind casting is a step in the right direction, but “you know what’s better than color-blind casting? Roles that are actually written about you. Roles that are actually written about your experience.”

Odom Jr. on Black Actors’ ‘Moment’ on Broadway