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Debating Diversity in Netflix’s ‘The Boys in the Band': Can a Revival Change Characters’ Race? (Guest Blog)

Producer and co-writer Ned Martel responds to TheWrap’s review by Alonso Duralde

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I can take a bad review, and I used to dish them out for a living. And the late, great Mart Crowley warned me all there’d be days like this and diatribes like that of Alonso Duralde, as there’ve been in the 52 years since his play, “The Boys in the Band,” first provoked audiences. My colleagues and I chose to revive it, first on Broadway and now on Netflix, and we all know: The show is about hostility, and hostility it inspires. That’s the gig.

I am not easily offended, and I am open to any criticism from anyone, but when Mr. Duralde accuses me of bad motives, I have to take a stand on behalf of Mart, the director Joe Mantello, and my fellow producers.

Mr. Duralde insists that the casting of Robin de Jesús, in the role of Emory, was an act of “cheating.” I insist on accuracy: Mart never declared which race this character is, was or needed to be. As a producer, Mart also approved of Robin’s hiring (and delighted in his performance), so I reject Mr. Duralde’s claim that we rolled past any restriction when we made Emory a Latinx character. Literally: Where is it written?

Mr. Duralde declares that our motive is to “retroactively let white characters’ racism off the hook.” I do find hate speech to be hate speech, no matter who expresses it. I also know that a Latinx person diminishing a Black person, in public, is racist, then as now. I notice that Mr. Duralde didn’t mention that Jim Parsons, playing a white character (to be clear), remains “on the hook” in every frame, but I don’t know his motive.

Let’s examine Mr. Duralde’s disinterest in diversifying our ensemble. How is his stance not dangerous, in our cultural quest to see more of America in our greatest texts, to include more perspectives that let us see ourselves in new ways? How might other risk-takers feel warned that such a casting is crossing a line, violating terms, courting failure? How does Mr. Duralde advance progress when falsely and inaccurately ascribing bad motives to how we reimagined Emory, when it ultimately gave a Latinx actor his third Tony nomination?

Mart’s work has passed the test of time, and no one works on it without reshaping it or being reshaped by it. His is a creation whose limits are meant to be tested, not a glass menagerie for gay aficionados. Our interpretation is open to robust criticism from any viewer in this new global, digital audience. However, I object vehemently to Mr. Duralde’s assertion that we conspired to cheat, and I invite anyone to point to rules we failed to follow.

Ned Martel is a former journalist and critic whose credits as a screenwriter and producer include "Glee," "American Horror Story" and "Hollywood." He shared an Emmy Award for producing "Inside Look: The People v. O.J. Simpson - American Crime Story." He also produced and co-wrote (with Mart Crowley) Netflix's 2020 adaptation of Crowley's play "The Boys in the Band."