NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The hottest show on Broadway has won praise for its groundbreaking casting of black and Latino performers, but now, “Hamilton” may have run afoul of the strict New York City Human Rights Law.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, the controversy was sparked by a casting notice posted by the producers of “Hamilton,” which specifically seeks “non-white” performers.
One critic said “Hamilton” takes a story that “valorizes dead white guys” and replaces it with black, Latino and multi-ethnic performers playing America’s founding fathers.
But as the blockbuster musical looks to expand to other cities, the casting notice with its call for “non-white” performers looks problematic to civil rights attorney Randolph McLaughlin.
“What if they put an ad out that said, ‘Whites only need apply?’” said McLaughlin, of the Newman Ferrara Law Firm. “Why, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians would be outraged.”
McLaughlin believes the ad violates the New York City Human Rights Law, which makes it unlawful “for an employer… because of the actual written or perceived… race of any person, to discriminate.”
“You cannot advertise showing that you have a preference for one racial group over another,” McLaughlin said. “As an artistic question – sure, he can cast whomever he wants to cast, but he has to give every actor eligible for the role an opportunity to try.”
That is also the policy of Actors Equity, the Broadway union, which says, “…producers agree that auditions for all productions… will be conducted in such a manner as to provide full and fair consideration to actors of all ethnicities.”
The press representative for the show told CBS2’s Aiello the language in the notice, “seeking non-white performers,” was approved by Actors Equity.
But the union general counsel denied that, saying such language was not and would not be approved. And in fact, the audition notice approved by the union welcomes performers of “all ethnicities” to audition, which is posted on the site Backstage.com.
Producer Jeffrey Seller defended the diversity of the “Hamilton” cast and the legality of the “non-white” casting notice.
“I stand by it and believe it to be legal,” he said.
The city Commission on Human Rights said it has not received a complaint about the ad, and would not say if it is investigating.
In recent years, the city has fined restaurants for advertising for “busboys” and “waitresses” instead of “bus help” and “wait staff.” In this case, a source told CBS2’s Aiello the commission would likely work with the “Hamilton” production team to help it comply with city law if it takes issue with the ad.