Stereotyping Of Minorities On Broadway Theatre Essay Example
Stereotyping Of Minorities On Broadway Theatre Essay Example

Stereotyping Of Minorities On Broadway Theatre Essay Example

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  • Pages: 13 (3349 words)
  • Published: September 12, 2017
  • Type: Research Paper
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The audience watched in awe as the red curtains rose, revealing a chorus of hardworking African Americans singing, "Negros all work on the Mississippi, Negros all work while the white folks play" (Kern and Hammerstein II). During the 1900s, Broadway musicals underwent a shift in themes, with composers like Kern, Rodgers, Gershwin, and Hammerstein creating more serious pieces that addressed societal issues like inequality. Musicals like Show Boat, West Side Story, Porgy and Bess, Finian's Rainbow, and South Pacific entertained audiences while also challenging stereotypes and promoting assimilation. Despite the controversy surrounding the portrayal of different races on Broadway, the lives of composers and the content of their musicals demonstrate their intent to acknowledge and accept minority cultures. George Gershwin, for example, was born in New York to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Rose and Morris Gersh


vin (Mitchell 9; Levert 118-20; asdf 13; asd 15).Rose and Morris raised their children in a diverse neighborhood, surrounded by Italian, Irish, Polish, and Judaic neighbors (Mitchell 12 asd 15). This multicultural upbringing laid the groundwork for George Gershwin's belief in embracing different races. Gershwin's acceptance of various ethnicities is further highlighted by his admiration for ragtime, a genre of black dance music popularized by Mississippi "raggers" like Jim Reese Europe (Mitchell 12 asdf 16, a). Over time, Gershwin blended his classical training with ragtime influences he had encountered in his earlier days, creating a new and unique sound (Mitchell 24-25, 37 asdf 17, 14). He showcased this fusion in his 1922 production called Blue Monday (B). Despite receiving mixed reviews due to its tragic ending and portrayal of the black community (Vernon 13 asdf 22), Gershwin had introduced new possibilities

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that inspired other artists like Jerome Kern. His creation of American music that promoted racial acceptance also influenced his own family, prompting them to change their surname from "Gershvin" to "Gershwin" and embrace a more Americanized identity (Mitchell 29-30 asdf 19). Despite the lack of success of Blue Monday, Gershwin remained committed to representing African-Americans through his work, as demonstrated by his later composition Porgy and Bess (a musical centered on African-Americans), revealing his desire for people to understand and appreciate those from different racial backgrounds.In 1933, after seven years of effort, Gershwin obtained the rights to Heyward's novel, Porgy and Bess (San Francisco Opera). To accurately depict African American culture to Anglo-Saxons, Gershwin visited Folly Island and stayed with the Geechees, descendants of slaves (Mitchell 44-6 and Swain 57). Immersing himself in their music and movements, Gershwin observed Island worship rites, which included chanting, singing, clapping, tapping, rocking, praying, and forming spiritual circles (Mitchell 44-6 and Swain 57 asdf 21 and 20). Gershwin's positive relationship with the Geechees is evident in his participation in their rituals. According to one account, Gershwin was so embraced by the Geechees that he took part in spiritual ceremonies, even managing to secure a central position in a spiritual circle typically reserved for Geechee leaders (Mitchell 44-46). These amicable interactions with African Americans motivated Gershwin to address the need for change, acceptance of races, and unity in America in his adaptation of Porgy and Bess. Francesca Zambello, an American director, spoke about Porgy and Bess, stating that it explores class, race, economic disadvantage, and all the factors that divide people and hinder the creation of a harmonious society (San

Francisco Opera).Even though some African Americans like Duke Ellington, Ralph Matthews, and Hall Johnson criticized Gershwin's Porgy and Bess for perpetuating stereotypes (Swain 57 asdf 21, 45), Gershwin himself denied that his intention in creating the musical was to demean the African American race. Instead, he claimed that Porgy and Bess aimed to represent an accurate portrayal of the race as he perceived it (Henderson and Bowers 99). In order to authentically reflect African American culture, Gershwin included spirituals and other significant forms of Afro-American music in Porgy and Bess, similar to Kern's approach in Show Boat (Bering 68-9 asdf 46). Gershwin's brother, Ira, who collaborated with him on Porgy and Bess, also strived to capture the essence of the black community by incorporating their language style and non-standard grammar (Bering 68-9 asdf 46). In addition to seeking fidelity to truth and promoting the assimilation of black people, Gershwin demonstrated his support for African Americans by insisting on an all-black cast for the show, despite the existence of Jim Crow laws. He even rejected collaboration with the Metropolitan Opera because he refused to hire white actors in blackface (San Francisco Opera). Inspired by Gershwin's example of composing racially themed musicals, Oscar Hammerstein II decided to collaborate with Jerome Kern on adapting Edna Ferber's novel Show Boat into a musical.Despite being born to immigrant Jewish-German parents, Kern was not strongly encouraged to embrace his ethnicity. His parents supported Americanization and tried to downplay their cultural differences, so Kern's Jewish-German background did not have a significant influence on his composition (Zollo). However, Kern demonstrated his openness to assimilation by carrying on Edna Ferber's original intent with Show

Boat (Green 319 asdf 36), even though the message was controversial at the time. For instance, Kern wrote "Ol' Man River," a song of submission with an implied protest (Hammerstein Zollo asdf 36), which was sung by an African-American. Like Gershwin, Kern merged African-American music with classical music to maintain a black atmosphere and effectively convey the piece's message - that black people were suffering unjustly - to the audience. This is evident in Kern's use of traditional black music in composing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" (Bering 54-5 asdf 60). In addition to his written work, Kern also hired black actors for Show Boat, further demonstrating his support for assimilation. Oscar Hammerstein II, Kern's collaborator on Show Boat, was a third-generation Prussian Jew. Originally named Oscar Greeley-Clendenning Hammerstein in honor of Horace Greeley (Wickware 107), Hammerstein continued his namesake's work in promoting the assimilation of black individuals.Richard Rodgers, alongside Gershwin, Kern, and Hammerstein, explored racial themes in his compositions. His use of idioms preserved the black spirit and tradition so that white audiences could better understand the experiences of Black people. Rodgers, originally named Richard Rogazinsky, came from a Russian-Jewish family that assimilated into American culture by changing their name to Rodgers. While he did not actively practice Jewish customs, his collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein II produced musicals like Flower Drum Song and South Pacific, which delved into topics of assimilation and love across racial barriers. Despite the segregation Asians faced during that time, Rodgers chose to cast Asian actors such as Pat Suzuki in Flower Drum Song. Notably, Rodgers' family was the first to hear Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, and although the

musical had strong racial themes, Rodgers expressed his appreciation by saying it was a Christmas Eve they would never forget. These factors suggest that Rodgers also felt the need to promote acceptance of different races through his artistic work.Despite demonstrating clear favoritism, some musicals during the time period also conveyed strong messages about the need for positive intervention and integration of non-Anglo-Saxons.

In Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia, a white man named Loving moved to Washington, D.C. with his African-American wife to escape the threat of imprisonment due to anti-miscegenation laws. It wasn't until 1967, 40 years after the musical Show Boat addressed the injustice of criminalizing interracial marriage, that the Supreme Court granted them permission to marry (Cruz and Berson).

Show Boat, which premiered in 1927, examined the inequalities of Jim Crow laws through the story of Julie, a mixed-race performer who hid her heritage because she was married to a white man named Steve (Henderson and Bowers 240 asdf 59). Julie knew songs that were known only to people of color (Green 60 asdf 62 ex. Encyclopedia MT). When she sang "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," the police approached to investigate whether or not she had black ancestry in order to determine if she was guilty of crossing racial lines (Rudinger 53-4 asdf 55). To protect Julie, Steve drank a drop of her blood, highlighting the absurdity of the "one-drop rule" (AHHHH FIND THIS).According to Booker T Washington, the "one drop rule" meant that even a small amount of black blood classified a person as black. Julie's hidden black heritage allowed the white audience to have a positive view of her. Her relationships with her

white husband and friend further emphasized the idea that blacks and whites are not fundamentally different. Show Boat promoted the idea of racial integration instead of segregation. The musical also created sympathy from white audiences by portraying the difficult lives of black laborers. The opening number, "The Levee at Natchez on the Mississippi," featured black actors singing about their endless toil. This theme is repeated in "Ol' Man River," where Joe and the chorus express wistfulness about the freedom of the river, while referencing their own hardships.I am tired and sick of trying, I'm tired of living, and scared of dying, but old man river, he just keeps rolling along...Don't look up and don't look down, you don't dare do the white boss scowl; bend your knees and bow your head, and pull that rope until you're dead. (Kern and Hammerstein II 47-55 asdf 61)

While Gershwin's Blue Monday explored racial issues and portrayed African-American tragedy, the show did not gain much popularity. Therefore, during the time Show Boat was performed, white audiences still associated Broadway with lightheartedness and comedy. Show Boat initially shocked many with its usage of strong words like "Niggers" (Bering 53-4) and its exploration of racial issues in society. However, it soon captivated white audiences and earned the title of "an American masterpiece" from the New York Times (New York Times Zollo).

The powerful imagery and expressive language in Show Boat allowed white audience members to empathize with black laborers and gain a deeper understanding of African-American suffering. Other pieces, such as "Queenie's Ballyhoo" (MISS FARIS VID), remained true to black culture (Ganzl 193) and provided a taste of black spirit to

the white audience. By appealing to individual whites, Show Boat promoted understanding and improved treatment of African-Americans.Show Boat served as a prime example for Burton Lane and E. Y. Harburg's Finian's Rainbow, which depicted the significance of trust (Green 126-7 asdf 9). In addition to highlighting the importance of trust, Harburg and Lane linked evil with racism by portraying their villain as a racist. According to the plot, the wicked senator attempts to hinder the success of non-Anglo-Saxon farmers due to his racism. This angers Og, a leprechaun, who turns the senator black (Hilgart). Once turned black, the formerly racist senator becomes more open-minded and even forms a bond with three other black individuals (Druxman 124). In "The Begat," which follows the senator's transformation, he sings about the origins of different races starting from Adam and Eve. He expresses his acceptance of all races by declaring, "The white begat, the red begat...the Greeks begat, the Swedes begat...starting from Genesis, they bless them all" (Lane and Harburg). This shows his willingness to recognize the equality of all races. In addition to combating discrimination against black individuals, Finian's Rainbow also addresses discrimination against Irish people. European immigrants from the early 1900s also faced discrimination from white individuals due to widespread racist perspectives expressed by influential figures such as President Roosevelt (Cruz and Berson adsf 26). Finian's Rainbow counters discrimination with songs like "When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich."The Irish supporter, Finian, dreams of a future without favoritism and sings "…No one will see the Irish or the Slav in you…This favoritism will no longer be" (Lane and Harburg 85-98 asdf 9). Two years later,

South Pacific, set in the Pacific, focused on the relationships of two interracial couples. Nellie Forbush falls for Emile de Becque, a mysterious Frenchman with a dark past. Despite Nellie's willingness to overlook Emile's history, her Anglo-Saxon upbringing complicates her feelings towards his mixed-race children from a French island. Her confusion and racist views create a barrier in their relationship and they separate. Similarly, Joe Cable is uncertain of how to navigate his feelings for Liat, an islander, due to his racist upbringing (Ganzl 277 asdf 64). In "You've Got to be Carefully Taught," Joe expresses his background, stating that "You've got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are curiously made, and people whose skin is a different shade" (Henderson and Bowers). Like Nellie, Joe's racism ultimately ends his relationship with Liat. Although Joe and Liat do not reconcile, Nellie realizes that love transcends race and is able to save her relationship with Emile.Performed to a predominantly White audience, South Pacific conveyed the message that love transcends race (Ganzl 176-7 asdf 66). Similarly to Show Boat, it challenged societal norms and prompted Whites to question the morality of racial segregation. West Side Story further explored the concept of love surpassing race by retelling the story of Romeo and Juliet with ethnic tensions replacing familial conflicts. The plot centers around Tony, an American, who falls in love with Maria, a Puerto Rican immigrant. Their relationship is met with disapproval from their friends and families due to their backgrounds and racial differences. Anita, Maria's sister-in-law, openly criticizes interracial relationships, advising Maria to "Stick to your own kind" (Bernstein and Sondheim 180-90). However, Maria

confidently responds by expressing that her heart knows better and she does not care about Tony's ethnicity (Bernstein and Sondheim 180-90). Ultimately, Tony gets involved in a confrontation between the Puerto Ricans and Americans and tragically loses his life (Green 441-2 asdf 75). This event leads to a realization among the gangs that racial animosity has reached a dangerous point (FIND THIS FIND THIS AHHH).This realization brings to light the main subject of West Side Story, which is the importance of interracial harmony over destructive racial divisions. Alongside the promotion of assimilation through racially themed musicals, Broadway served as an example for America by providing opportunities and recognition for minority artists. One example is The Wiz, which depicted the Wizard of Oz in a ghetto scene with an all black cast. Additionally, Flower Drum Song and other shows also gave minority actors a chance to work at a professional level. The employment of minority actors in the early to mid 1900s is significant because artists in other art forms such as ballet and classical music faced difficulties in obtaining professional opportunities. Arthur Mitchell, a black dancer, explained that he had to outshine his white competitors. While some may argue that producers and directors in the theater industry often missed out on opportunities for white actors, Broadway set a precedent by hiring non-white actors for their ethnicity. Despite the fact that black actors were employed in the film industry as early as the 1920s, they often played stereotypical comedic roles rather than more serious characters like those seen in Show Boat and Porgy and Bess.Some may argue that Jazz music had renowned performers like Louis Armstrong,

but unlike Broadway, Jazz was primarily aimed at a black audience. Artists like Paul Robeson, a descendant of a slave, used their opportunities in the arts to advocate for equality. Robeson personally experienced discrimination and exploitation based on his race, which gave him a deep understanding of the damaging effects of prejudice. As a result, he took a stand for equality by performing for diverse audiences and speaking out against unfair violence towards black individuals. Robeson's influential position as a well-known black artist shed light on his belief that everyone should be equal. However, he also acknowledged that while he achieved success, many other black individuals still lacked basic rights. Robeson urged white people to accept and offer equal opportunities to black individuals, allowing them to have good positions, jobs, and the dignity that every human deserves. Broadway also began incorporating works by black composers in addition to employing minority actors.Shuffle Along is a musical written by Afro-American composer Eubie Blake in the 1920s. It is believed that this show played a major role in launching the Harlem Renaissance, which aimed to empower black artists. The fact that the Truman campaign incorporated a song from Shuffle Along helped to increase its popularity and demonstrated the influence of musical theater in promoting integration and acceptance, as a black musical resonated with a white presidential candidate at a time when segregation was rampant. Other shows composed by black artists, like Runnin' Wild in 1923, also played a significant role in popularizing black dance. Audiences who saw shows like Runnin' Wild embraced black culture through their acceptance of the dance and music, as it was seamlessly integrated into

the entertainment. Later on, A Raisin in the Sun, written by black composer Lorraine Hansberry, received Tony award nominations in 1960, despite the fact that segregation still persisted during the civil rights movement. It is worth mentioning that A Raisin in the Sun was nominated years after movie actress Hattie McDaniel became the first black person to receive an Academy Award in 1939, though she was nominated for playing a stereotypical black maid. The Academy did not recognize black written screenplays until 1972, twelve years after A Raisin in the Sun. The hiring of minority actors encouraged the formation of all-black theater groups like the Negro Ensemble Company, who often put on musical productions centered around black life, such as Ceremonies in Dark Old Men and The River Niger.The play ran for eight months on Broadway (Cummings asdf 35). The inclusion of theater groups dedicated to black rights revealed that minority actors recognized the importance of using art to encourage audiences to better understand black culture or accept blacks as equals. Broadway's acceptance of black groups performing black shows increased openness and willingness to allow blacks to use the stage as a platform for promoting assimilation. The emergence of black artists and musicals attracted black audiences to engage in art. According to Judith Cummings, The Wiz provided a unique opportunity for black theatergoers to have a choice among Broadway shows that offered them something relatable, with nearly a dozen others in the same season that utilized black talent or offered a glimpse into black life (Cummings asdf 71). The fact that blacks sat in the audience represents tremendous progress from the earlier 1900s in terms

of black rights, as attending musicals required spending money and leisure time, which were luxuries not available to blacks in earlier time periods. Additionally, the fact that blacks also enjoyed musicals demonstrated to white audiences that blacks were not fundamentally different from whites, further promoting the goal of assimilation.Blacks may have been empowered by the realization that, as a race, they had achieved some recognition since the early 1900s. This confidence could have motivated them to advocate for additional rights. Composers such as Kern, Rodgers, Gershwin, and Hammerstein exemplified this acceptance of assimilation and wrote musicals that supported this belief. Musicals like Show Boat, South Pacific, West Side Story, and Finian's Rainbow either promoted acceptance by addressing racial barriers or discouraged segregation by highlighting the negative aspects of racial discrimination. By casting minority actors, blacks were given a platform to voice the injustice of segregation. Figures like Paul Robeson and those in the Negro Ensemble Company publicly expressed hope for assimilation. Black-centered musicals like A Raisin in the Sun promoted understanding of blacks and attracted black audiences. In present times, Broadway continues its legacy through shows like Wicked, which explores resistance towards accepting those with different skin tones. Additionally, Asian actors like Filipina Lea Salonga have taken on roles originally written for white actors, such as Eponine in Les Miserables and Cinderella in Cinderella.The text emphasizes the significance of a 2002 film adaptation of Gershwin's Cinderella. This version included diverse characters such as an Asiatic prince, a white stepmother, a black queen, black half sisters, and a black Cinderella. By not adhering strictly to the original ethnicity of the characters, this film demonstrates a belief

in the rejection of racial division and the importance of racial integration today. It also recognizes the pioneering work of Broadway in the early to mid-1900s as instrumental in advancing these ideas.

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