by Ashley De La Rosa
A few weeks ago, Curtis Holland and I played Regina George and Aaron Samuels opposite of each other. We are the only understudies of color for these respective roles in the Broadway company of Mean Girls. The energy in the building was electric because myself and the entire cast were so excited to see two POC leads rule North Shore High for a night. Not to mention the incredible response from the fans at the stage door and on social media. I was reminded how important it is for people like Curtis and me to play roles that are traditionally white. How important it is not only for us as actors, but for this industry as a whole.
The representation of people of color in mainstream media in the past has been one-dimensional: focusing only on the baby mamas and absent fathers, painting Latinas as “fiery” and “exotic” and erasing anything else outside of a stereotype. But things have begun to shift in the last few years. Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us, Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle In Time, and Issa Rae’s Insecure are prime examples of stories that represent Black bodies in a more diverse and empowering way. That representation is expanding into the theater world as well. Regina George, while flawed in many ways, is a character who is the Queen Bee and admired by everyone in the school. Aaron Samuels is admired for his intelligence, generosity of spirit, and kindness. These are the characters that POC should be playing because we are more than a stereotype.
As I move forward in my career I would love to see more diversity on stage and behind the table in audition rooms. Diversity begets creativity and creativity begets exceptional art. Every time I go on for Regina or Gretchen, I receive messages from people all over the world expressing how excited they are to see someone who looks like me play those parts. Many of the messages are from women of color who believe that they can see themselves in me and are inspired to continue their exploration into the performing arts. Representation in the arts still has a long way to go. We need to continue to push for diversity in casting, not just for actors of color, but for every single marginalized group in this industry. We are more than capable of telling these stories and sharing our experiences on stage. It’s a long road. It’s not perfect. But I can assure you, it works.