On Tuesday morning, the Broadway play Eclipsed received six Tony Award nominations, including Best Play, Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Direction — and it turns out those nominations were history-making.
The play initially premiered at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company of Washington, DC, in 2009, and circulated to a number of theaters before appearing on Broadway this March. It became the first Broadway play to have an entirely black and female cast and creative team.
The production stars Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave actress Lupita Nyong’o and tells the story of five women fighting to survive during the end of the Liberian Civil War in 2003. Eclipsed is the Broadway debut for playwright Danai Gurira, who is known for acting in the AMC show The Walking Dead.
During an interview with HuffPost Live, Gurira expressed her frustration with the "systemic" struggle with diversity in entertainment, including theater.
"If a system was designed, however many generations ago, to really explore and celebrate one specific people, then the idea of finally starting to open up the door to other types of people moves slowly, because at the core the system is the same," she told HuffPost Live.
Regarding the spotlight on her play, she added, "I understand the significance of the moment, but I also find it a shame that there is any significance to the moment. … I yearn to see that the next time one of my plays is on Broadway, it’s just not that much of an event for a black woman to have written a play for Broadway."
Aside from actress categories, white men have historically dominated Tony nominations and winners. Throughout the award’s nearly 70-year history, only two female writers have won for best play. Neither woman is black. And just four black women have won the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play. They include Phylicia Rashad in 2004, Viola Davis in 2010, Cicely Tyson in 2013, and Audra McDonald in 2014.
In addition to Nyong’o, seven other black actresses are nominated for Tonys in the leading and featured role categories this year. This includes Danielle Brooks from the Netflix hit Orange Is the New Black, who was nominated for Best Performance in a Featured Role in a Musical for a revival of The Color Purple.
Looking to the future of women and people of color in theater, Gurira told HuffPost Live that there's a lot of "growing" to do. But she encourages producers to take risks on new, fresh writers, and she encourages playwrights to fight for their authentic voices.
"I think that's what you have to pursue as a playwright," she said. "That thing where it's just about getting those voices out there and letting it be on the page and alive, and not backing down."