Sunday, June 23, 2024

‘1776’ Broadway Actress Brings Racial Discrimination, Retaliation Lawsuit to Play’s Producers

Zuri Washington; Photo: Zuri-Washington.com
Zuri Washington; Photo: Zuri-Washington.com

*Legal trouble is presenting a new type of drama for the Broadway play “1776.” Legal documents reveal that Zuri Washington, a stage actor who played Robert Livingston, has sued producers of the production for alleged racial discrimination and retaliation. The suit details a string of events that Washington claims led to her termination from “1776.”

The entertainer, best known for her roles in Broadway’s “Bring It On: The Musical” and “Memphis,” was among the women, nonbinary, and transgender people of various races to play the Founding Fathers. Her contract was expected to run from Dec. 5, 2022, through Aug. 13, 2023.

In her lawsuit, Washington mentioned that her poor experience with production first began when her hair plan was dismissed by producers. Washington voiced her issue with production, saying she wanted to wear a wig in “1776” because she was not comfortable performing in her natural hair. The hairstyle production was interested in did not involve a wig … and Washington was allegedly told this information five days before they were set to perform, according to The Messenger.

The complaint goes on to reveal similar concerns from other black actors about their hair plans and preference for wearing a wig that was likewise kept in the dark. Further noted in the complaint was production being quick to accommodate white actors by providing them with wigs on demand.

Based on events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “1776” centers on the efforts of John Adams to convince his colleagues to vote for the independence of America and sign the Declaration. Since premiering on Broadway in 1969, the critically acclaimed musical was adapted into a film in 1972. the 2022 Bradway revival of “1776” features a cast comprised entirely of people who identify as female, trans, and non-binary.

Although Washington expressed her concerns with Company Manager Katie Cortez, her frustrations were not revealed until a company meeting issues did not manifest until a company meeting discussing COVID-19 protocols at the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia.

“I am an assertive communicator,” Washington said while voicing what happened during the meeting in an interview with Broadway World. “I know that for some people, especially being a woman, especially being a Black woman, assertive communication can come across aggressively. But from my perspective, I was communicating clearly and assertively. What happened during that meeting is that I ended up cursing, but I cursed a lot. I cursed during this meeting as an emphasis to what I was saying. I said, ‘I don’t give a f— what Equity said.’ And we’re sitting in the house, so the chairs in front of me, I kind of like hit them for emphasis.”

Washington’s agent was called after the meeting by the “1776” general manager Madeline McCluskey. McCluskey was told her client was being “unruly and slamming chairs” at the meeting.

“Hair is so charged in general and especially for Black women,” Washington said. “I know plenty of white women that feel a lot about their hair, but for communities of color our hair is so tied to our identities and so, for me, to have been dealing with that issue for as long as I was dealing with it and then, on top of that, to now be castigated and kind of indirectly labeled as an aggressive, Black woman, I sort of browned out. I didn’t completely black out but my brain was in and out of functioning.”

After meeting with a third-party HR person, Sarah Rajtik, Washington acknowledged that she was encouraged to write a formal complaint regarding her experiences with “1776” production staff.

“‘You know what, yes, I will, because this is the only course of action available to me and I’m going to do it,'” Washington recalled saying. “‘I’ll take these f—ers down that way if I have to. I’ve taken bigger f—ers down before and I’ll do it again. So yes, I will be filing an official complaint with HR.'”

Despite her intent to file a complaint, the complaint revealed Washington was terminated for alleged “aggressive, uncontrolled behavior and threatening statement,” before doing so.

“They took [my words] as a threat as opposed to what it was, which is that I said, ‘Yes, I’m going to file a complaint and I’ll take them down by putting into HR an official claim due to my employer acting in bad faith,’” Washington said.

Zuri Washington - Facebook
Zuri Washington – Facebook

“I’m a self-advocate but I am a huge advocate for and of other people,” Washington also told the outlet. “I want everyone in this industry, on every level, but especially on the actor level—because that’s what I do—I want us all to know that we have power. People strip themselves of their power easily in our industry and it makes me so sad. If I do nothing else in my life, I know that the ripple effect of this, and other actions that I’ve taken in the past and will continue to take in the future, is to remind people that they have power and they can, and should, use it.”

News surrounding Washington’s complaint has generated headlines. In response to the initial news, Washington’s lawyer Tanvir H. Rahman, partner at Filippatos PLLC, issued the following statement to The Messenger.

“Race discrimination has absolutely no business on Broadway. In the theater industry where talented actors, especially actors of color, are expected to keep their heads down and voices low, our client, Zuri Washington, an incredibly talented, principled, and thoughtful Black actor, has courageously decided to tell her story and hold the producers of 1776 accountable for violating her right to work in an environment free of bias and retaliation,” he shared. “We are proud to represent Ms. Washington and look forward to vindicating her rights in front of a jury of her peers.”

MORE NEWS On EURWEB: ‘1776’ Musical Sparkles – Now At the Ahmanson Theatre LA Thru May 7

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