Amara Okereke won ‘Best Actress In A Musical’ at the Stage Debut Awards in 2018, for her historic performance in Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre, where she made history as the first British actress of colour to play the role of Cosette.
But in a week when on Broadway we are celebrating three black actresses performing leading roles on stage (Aisha Jackson as Elsa in Frozen, Brittney Johnson as Glinda in Wicked and fellow brit Norma Dumezweni as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), it seems the West End still has a way to go in championing people of colour on the theatre stage.
Amara took to Twitter last night after audience members at Les Miserables made it ‘glaringly obvious’ how much they didn’t enjoy her performance which led her to wonder “did they not like the fact that I’m black?”
Hi guys. Gentle reminder to audiences that you don’t have to love every actors performance but going out of your way to make it glaringly obvious to me how much you didn’t enjoy mine, during my bow, is slightly unnecessary and very hurtful. I do have feelings lol 🙃🙃
Unfortunately, being an actress of colour, the question often comes up ‘did they not like my performance or did they not like the fact that I’m black?
And, while I’m aware it may have just been a case of this individual not enjoying my performance, the aggressive nature of their actions shown towards me along with some comments I have seen on social media about my casting in the show make me feel the need to say something.
I love playing the role of Cosette and I don’t believe the colour of my skin, in any way, dictates whether or not I am right for the role. I don’t want to be ‘a black Cosette’ I just want to be Cosette. Unfortunately it seems we still have a way to go until people can accept that.
Her message has been met with an outpouring of support for her on social media, including heartfelt messages from fellow West End performers.
David Hunter (Kinky Boots/Waitress) said “Do your best to ignore them (easier said than done, I know) and play to the 1,072 people LOVING your performance! (I googled the capacity of the Queens specifically for this tweet)”
Melanie La Barrie (Wicked) added: “Lemme tell you what you do. You keep turning up. Keep showing up. You keep working and making work and helping work be made. Let your heart break a little. Then turn up again tomorrow. Then turn up in the next show. Let them fret. You have work to do. ❤️”
Today, after seeing the support for her online she thanked people by saying “Thank you for all the very kind responses to my last tweet. I can’t express how comforting it is to move on from the situation knowing how much the positive outweighs the negative 💛”
We may not quite be at the point where the colour of a persons skin isn’t noticed and talked about in theatre but at least we are getting to the point where people are standing up for themselves and starting the conversations we need to be having in order to make a change for good.
FOLLOW WEST END WILMA