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Griffin Matthews, a black writer and actor, accused Diane M. Paulus, artistic director of the American Repertory Theater, of racism this week after the two worked on a show that premiered at the A.R.T. in 2014.
Matthews recounted his experiences during the production of his musical “Witness Uganda” in a video posted on social media Monday. He implicated Paulus as one of several collaborators whom he described as the “Amy Coopers” of Broadway — referring to a white woman who called the police on Christian F. Cooper '84, a black man, while he was bird-watching in Central Park — though he did not name her explicitly.
“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,” Matthews said. “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.”
Paulus, who teaches on the Harvard faculty and won a Tony Award in 2013, declined to comment. A.R.T. public relations director Rebecca Curtiss referred to a statement released by Paulus on June 4.
In the statement, which is posted on A.R.T.’s website, Paulus neither denied nor explained her behavior toward Matthews. Paulus said she was “profoundly sorry for the pain” she caused Matthews and others during the process of developing the musical.
“In a process filled with creative differences, many rewrites, and heated discussions around a subject matter steeped in the pain of racial violence, it was my responsibility to create a space where those issues were handled with the deepest care,” Paulus wrote. “I could and should have done better.”
“I am learning,” Paulus added.
In a seven-minute video, Matthews recounted a director “saying in a casting session that an actress doesn’t look black enough to be in ‘Witness Uganda,’” which he said “is what black people call the ‘paper bag test.’”
Matthews went on to recount another exchange with the director in which she “screamed in my face, 'I do not work for you.’” Matthews, however, noted the director “works for the writer to bring forward the vision and in that moment she was Amy Cooper.”
Paulus said in her statement that she recognizes the need for artists to “acknowledge the role” they play in furthering anti-Black racism.
“I also realize this process is not happening fast enough,” Paulus said. “Our entire industry, especially those in positions of power, needs to examine our practices and make changes, including at my own institution, the A.R.T.”
Matthews also spoke in his video about his own path forward within Broadway.
“I may never make it to Broadway for simply speaking out against the horrific treatment that I received, and all the Amy Coopers will be fine,” Matthews said. “They do not need black people to reach the pinnacle of success, and that is why I say, burn it down.”
Representatives for Matthews did not respond to a request for comment.
Paulus also wrote that she plans to recommit herself “to engaging in deeper self-reflection, to creating braver spaces for more collaborative art-making, and to listening to feedback” in order to become “a better artist, director, and citizen.”
“We live in a racist world, and no one is immune to it, myself included,” she wrote in her statement. “Accountability is paramount, for myself and for all of us in our field.”
—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at email@example.com.
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