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This was originally published as an Instagram Video by Griffin Matthews earlier today. This is a transcript.
This has been an extraordinarily difficult week for me. It’s been emotional. It’s been isolating. It’s been anxiety inducing and I decided to go silent on social media because I didn’t know how to contribute to the conversation.
I woke up this morning and thought, OK, I should put down my thoughts and say why I’m so triggered and say why we want people to listen to us. So this is my experience detailing making a musical that some of you know: Witness Uganda, also known as Invisible Thread, back when we were making it for Off-Broadway in New York City. And these are my thoughts. They’re sensitive. I’ve never shared them. I think this is the moment.
We all saw the video of Amy Cooper pulling her white lady privilege card on a black man in Central Park as he asked her to simply follow the rules.
She threatened his reputation, his livelihood, and his life. It was a revelation for America, but it was extremely triggering for me because I had been in the room where it happens. And Amy Coopers are alive and well in the American theater. Also, white men can be Amy Coopers too. Here are just a few things that happened to me along the way.
Strong-arming a black writer after you’ve already purchased the rights to my work by saying: “I will not produce your show if you do not change the title, exit your role as lead actor, and exit your role as lead writer,” is a direct threat and that is Amy Cooper.
A director saying in a casting session that an actress doesn’t look black enough to be in Witness Uganda is what black people call “the paper bag test” and that is Amy Cooper.
Second Stage wanting to honor the work of Matt Gould and I for their annual gala with the promise of a hefty donation to our charity, asking our entire cast to perform for free and then parading us around their gallery to talk about the importance of their risky endeavors. Yet the donation never came. That is Amy Cooper.
A white reviewer noted that our 20-something black actors playing high school kids and college graduates looked a little old for the roles. The show that followed ours was Dear Evan Hansen, starring a bunch of white 20-somethings playing high schoolers.
Their looks were never on the table because white people get to play make-believe on stage. Black people are scrutinized for our wigs, our costumes, our ages, our skin color, our bodies, our vocals, our muscles or our curves. And that is Amy Cooper.
A white theater reviewer said: “And then big mama comes out to sing the gospel number.” They were referring to Melody Betts’ incomparable performance of Bela Musana. Her character’s name was Rain Lady, not big mama, and that is Amy Cooper.
A theater reviewer attempted to destroy my career by saying the only thing that Griffin Matthews cares about is Griffin Matthews. And then proceeded to not only rip apart my show, but also attack me personally, never once asking why an entirely white theater producing staff, director, and Broadway producer bought and paid for my material. I became the singular scapegoat inside of a $2 million musical, and that is Amy Cooper.
And when that racist review came out, not one person on the producing entity challenged it. Not one person defended the singular black voice that they had just paraded around at their gala, and that is Amy Cooper.
In the middle of a heated creative team meeting, our director stood up and screamed in my face: “I do not work for you.” When, in fact, she did. She worked for me. The director works for the writer to bring forward the vision and in that moment she was Amy Cooper.
A song in act one mentioned the fact that I was the son of slaves. Our producer in the middle of a creative team meeting said: “Slavery is over. No one wants to hear about that.” Not one single person put him in check, and that is Amy Cooper.
See, the thing about Amy Cooper is she is a liberal. She is an artistic director. She is a Tony winner. She is a producer. She teaches at Harvard. She is charismatic. She’s an excellent public speaker and fundraiser. She puts on pretty dresses and speaks eloquently about how much she cares about diversity and inclusion. She has made her entire career about that. She works with black people. She believes she loves black people. She buys their work and then behind closed doors she steals it. She manipulates it. She has no time or patience to research it. She has no idea of how to defend it because she never understood it. She waits for everyone else to tell her if it’s good or if it’s relevant or if it’s award-worthy because she sincerely has no idea what’s what. Her black experience is strictly about money and profits.
She has no real black friends and has never needed to have them because that’s not part of the equation of rising to the pinnacle of success on Broadway. Think about that. White people literally need not one black person to become a Broadway sensation to become a millionaire, to become a Tony winner, to become Broadway history. Not one black person is needed to achieve that and that is why Broadway is racist. It is teaming with racist theater owners, producers, directors, writers, artistic directors, choreographers, agents, managers, actors, stage managers, company managers, casting directors, press teams and reviewers pretending to be allies. And if the word racist stings you, it should, because racist behavior has been stinging artists of color since the very beginning.
Racism has been stealing our dreams, choking our stories, losing our talent, destroying our bank accounts, and then discarding us when we are no longer valued. And here’s the deepest revelation from me: I may never make it to Broadway for simply speaking out against the horrific treatment that I received, and all of the Amy Coopers will be fine because they won’t read this, or they won’t care that I wrote it because they do not need black people to reach the pinnacle of success. And that is why I say burn it down.
The institution isn’t working. It never was. Black artists have been keeping a secret from you. We have been performing on stage and off. That’s the secret. And we’re tired. We’re tired of keeping it. We are done. I am done. The Great White Way needs a real black friend immediately. And one more thing, Book of Mormon is racist. There. I said it.
This was originally published as an Instagram Story by Griffin Matthews earlier today.
UPDATE: Diane Paulus responded to Griffin’s video here.