On February 4, Broadway stars David Alan Grier, Blair Underwood, and Celia Rose Gooding joined Nightline co-anchor Byron Pitts on the Black History Month Let’s Talk Speaker Series to reflect on their Broadway experiences as Black performers, as well as the state of being Black on Broadway.
Grier and Underwood co-star in the current Broadway production of A Soldier’s Play, the Pulitzer Prize-winning murder mystery set on an Army base, focused on a Black batallion, in 1944.
“To see all of these different Black men—all different sizes, shapes, hues—all different points of views culturally, politically, ethnically—arguing amongst ourselves. What I call it is an intra-racial conflict. It is about our discussion within our race,” says Grier. “Depending on the night and who's in the audience, you're gonna get an 'Amen' ...where people are going, ‘He’s right.’”
For Gooding, who stars as a Black adoptive teen growing up in a white family, she says, “The fact that I'm being asked to bring my young, Black, queer perspective—it sheds some weight off of me [around other more seasoned actors]. I was asked to be in the room because of something that I bring.
“It's about time dark-skin Black girls are allowed to tell their own story, instead of being the best friend of someone.”
Certainly representation onstage is changing. So what do these three think about the permanence, or lack thereof, of this shift?
“I remember when Jeffrey Holder had three shows running,” Grier recalls in the video above. “There was at that time and reading in Ebony magazine that this was the Black renaissance. I think, like anything culturally, it goes up and down, but this is a little different. This is a different generation of artists—playwrights from Slave Play, which is a new play, to what Celia is doing, which is a new play—our play is a revival. We feed on the past to tell the present what we want to do now and what's going to happen in the future. So hopefully we've come from where we were.”
“I think the power of the Black story is only as powerful as those who receive it and not just sit and watch they actually go home and think about what they've seen,” Gooding adds. “Because in the ebb and flow of the rep of our culture in media, it's all about those who keep talking about it.”
“It’s a Golden Age in Hollywood and Broadway. Part of it in Hollywood is because of the streaming services; you're reaching millions of more people worldwide. People want to see themselves. People want to be represented,” says Underwood. “You're seeing that more and more. It's an exciting time. And it's exciting to see. We look out into the audience, seeinga more people of color in the audience, which is not a tradition of the Broadway audience.”
“We had a group of young people after the show, and one of the young ladies goes, ‘I’m just enthralled by all this melanin, this Blackness onstage,’” Grier recalls. “And I go, ‘Don’t get hung up on the color, because I’ve been in plenty of really bad productions that were full of melanin.’ We have to tell a good story and entertain and do our job. That’s what will sustain this movement and make it more permanent.”
Watch the full conversation from ABC News’ Black History Month coverage in the video below: