BIPOC theatre artists pen open letter to white American theatre

Leslie Odom Jr., Cynthia Erivo, Viola Davis, and Lynn Nottage are among those who signed the letter.


In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, 300 Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) theater artists cosigned a letter entitled “We See You, White American Theater” which demands a more equitable theater industry. 

The letter, which begins “Dear White American Theater” and invokes August Wilson’s “The Ground Which I Stand,” is punctuated throughout with the statement “we see you” as it enumerates the ways that white theatermakers have excluded and exploited artists of color. 

“This is a response to the Civic Unrest in our country,” a statement on the website reads. “We all recognize that while our country is full of protests against racial injustice, we must also protest it in our own field.  We are demanding a more equitable and safe space for all BIPOC communities in our nation and inside of the American Theatre.”

The letter outlines the lack of diversity in programming and on creative teams, as creatives are selected from “rosters of white theatermakers for white audiences, while relegating a token, if  any, slot for a BIPOC play.” It goes on to note that BIPOC works are hijacked to pander to white audiences and that there are no significant efforts to build relationships with BIPOC communities, despite boasting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion statements. 

The letter also notes the way BIPOC theatermakers are used to present an image of diversity on promotional materials, at galas, donor meetings, and in grants to secure funding despite never being a recipient of those funds. It also raises the racism in unions, which is “muting the authenticity of our culture and only reserving space for us to shine out front on your stages but never behind them.”

The letter concludes “About theatres, executive leaders, critics, casting directors, agents, unions, commercial producers, universities and training programs. You are all a part of this house of cards built on white fragility and supremacy. And this is a house that will not stand. This ends TODAY. We are about to introduce you...to yourself. Signed, The Ground We Stand On.”

The letter was co-signed by Leslie Odom Jr., Lynn Nottage, Cynthia Erivo, Katori Hall, Cody Renard Richard, Jeremy Pope, Lin Manuel-Miranda, Lauren Yee, Viola Davis and many more. The creators of the letter also made a public petition which can be viewed and signed here.