The Daily News buried the lead in a big way Thursday with a scoop accusing Woody Allen of refusing to hire black actors hidden under a headline that fails to mention the bombshell. According to a Daily News source, the reason Allen’s Broadway musical about Harlem’s Cotton Club features an all-white cast is due to Allen’s refusal hire black actors to fill the gangster roles, even for the musical numbers.
Everyone’s white at Woody’s Cotton Club and in the gangster numbers,” says our well-placed Broadway insider. “Casting was considering a big-name African-American actor for the play, but Woody passed because he just got the idea that a black gangster wouldn’t be good. One man wasn’t asked back and then was told it was Woody who didn’t want any black gangsters.”
Our source adds that the casting team told Allen a scene re-creating the iconic Harlem club, which was popular with black clubgoers, should actually feature some.
It is odd for any big musical to not feature any African-Americans, especially when in the workshop production — a preshow period for producers and investors — a few black actors were featured and were phenomenal.
The only non-white actor in the play is in a dance ensemble.
The musical is based on Allen’s 1994 film of the same name, which also featured only white actors in top roles. For a while now, Allen has been under fire for not hiring black actors in his films. Until 1998, the most prominent role the Oscar-winner gave to a black actor was as a prostitute in “Deconstructing Harry.” Allen has since cast black actors in some speaking roles but not many, and this latest charge is only going to stoke the controversy.
Allen’s spokesman claims the Daily News story is untrue. But that doesn’t change the fact that a play set in a Harlem club does not feature a single black actor.
Race has nothing to do with the film “Bullets Over Broadway.” If the story in the musical is the same as the film, there is absolutely no rational reason to refuse to cast a black actor or knock someone out of contention (as is alleged above) based on skin color.
I have seen plays where black actors have been cast in roles that take you out of the story. Casting a black actress as Bob Cratchit’s wife in a “Christmas Carol,” for example. It wouldn’t be racist for Allen to want to avoid such a thing, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.
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