Article by Kitty Drexel
BOSTON — The July 9 press release said, “Huntington Theatre Company announces the election of 4 new board members and the promotion of two Huntington Advisors to Trustee level. The election took place during the Huntington’s year-end meeting of the Board of Trustees and Advisors on June 8, 2020.”
The headliner of the press release, Tony, Emmy, and Grammy Award winner, director of Huntington productions, and historically relevant badass Billy Porter is a new trustee of the Huntington. Porter and global businessman Professor George Yip are the only two people of color added to the Huntington’s snowflake white board leadership. Three of the six promotions are white women. The other is, of course, a rich, cis, white male.
While we congratulate all of the new board and trustee members, we can’t help but notice the Huntington’s hypocrisy. The theatre penned and posted a Black Lives Matter solidarity statement on its website. The election of four white people flies in the face of that solidarity statement.
What we mean when we say Black Lives Matter isn’t merely that Black people shouldn’t be killed for being Black. It means that Black lives matter in every aspect of life – especially in leadership where a constant, consistent, purposeful Black presence means the difference between reinforcing white supremacist practices (like electing more whites to your majority white leadership) and actual, factual equality.
The Huntington chose not to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. It could have elected six Black people to its already pristinely caucasian boards. It decided not to. This act, regardless of good intention, is one of white supremacy.
For the Hungtington’s #BLM statement to carry any weight at all, they must hire permanent, consistent, visible Black people to their leadership. They had the chance to make a symbolic gesture to the theatre community and they decided against it.
Billy Porter is an amazing artist and activist. Porter’s work as a director at the Huntington is routinely brilliant. It is highly unlikely that Porter will attend every Huntington trustee meeting.
Porter is having a media moment that makes him very busy. His presence cannot be assured in decision making. As a trustee, Porter will not be involved in the decisions that will affect Black lives at the local level. Black Lives Matter at every level. Even when it’s inconvenient.
The New England Theatre Geek is leaning hard into Huntington Theatre Company because we believe they are big boys and girls and can handle it. The Huntington isn’t the first company to make a public Black Lives Matter statement and then micro and macro-aggress against it shortly after. Many professional and fringe theatre companies in New England have done this in the past month. If any of them had Black – or any person of color – leadership making thoughtful decisions, perhaps these hypocrisies could have been avoided. Alas, that is not the timeline we’re living under.
White people, we need to do better. Black people need to be in all of the rooms where all of the big and small decisions are being made. Whether choosing to use Africanized font and color schemes in one’s Juneteenth email from an all-white opera company or electing even more white people to a majority-white board of trustees, BIPOC representatives must be present.
We’re going to make lots of mistakes. We’ll make fewer if we hire, consult with, and pay BIPOC folx to make those decisions with us. Make better choices and an easy decision gets even easier.