“Our tragedies are not for sale!” and “‘The Scottsboro Boys’ is racist!” These chants rang loud and strong on Sunday night when members of the Freedom Party, led by Council Member Charles Barron, staged a protest and picket line outside the 65th annual Tony Awards ceremony at the Beacon Theater on Broadway. The American Theater Wing had nominated the musical for 12 Tony Awards for theater excellence. However, by the night’s end, “The Scottsboro Boys” had won zero honors.
Over 20 protesters stood outside the facade of the Beacon Theater as passers-by, photographers and police officers looked on. “We shut ’em down!” The Freedom Party shouted, asserting their part in bringing the musical’s Broadway run to an early end after it had organized a protest in front of the Lyceum Theater in December 2010. Last Sunday, the line extended the length of the front entrance and party members repeatedly raised shouts of “racism” from approximately 7:30 to 8:15 p.m., when police ushered the group from the front of the theater onto Amsterdam Avenue.
Behind the Beacon Theater, large white tents covered the red-carpet entrance that welcomed celebrities at the stage door. During the show, Joshua Henry sang the lead on a musical number from the beginning of “The Scottsboro Boys” about life working on the railroad. What was omitted during the Tony Awards broadcast was the racist minstrel format and the majority of songs that presented the Scottsboro Boys as buffoonish characters.
Despite the public dissent, recent reports allege that producers are scheduling short runs of “The Scottsboro Boys” in theaters in San Diego and San Francisco next spring. Meanwhile, major news agencies in print and on television failed to mention the protestors on Sunday night, leaving it to Black-owned news outlets to communicate this story to readers.