We told you it was happening! Broadway’s Cort Theater was just renamed in honor of beloved actor, James Earl Jones.
91-year-old James Earl Jones is a staple in the Black community. Jones has worked in a plethora of movies and we can recognize his voice acting features from a mile away. Some of his greatest work includes timeless movies such as Coming To America, Star Wars, and The Lion King. In the course of his career, he has accrued many awards and honors like the National Medal of Arts, a Golden Globe, the Kennedy Center Honors, a Grammy, two Emmy’s and two Tony’s. He was also awarded an honorary Oscar and a special Tony for lifetime achievement. Now, the theater where he spoke his first line is being renamed in his honor.
A ceremony was held on Monday, which the actor was not in attendance for, but peers Samuel L. Jackson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Suzan-Lori Parks, NaTasha Yvette Williams, Danielle Brooks, Corey Hawkins, Phylicia Rashad and Woody King, Jr. made an appearance. Director Kenny Leon told The Associated Press, “It means everything. You can’t think of an artist that has served America more. It’s like it seems like a small act, but it’s a huge action. It’s something we can look up and see that’s tangible.” Jones and his family toured the facility privately, where he filmed a video for the ceremony. “I spoke my first line ever on Broadway in this theater, I was a kid,” he said as he stood on the stage looking out to an empty audience.
Along with the renaming, $47 million will go towards the restructuring and expansion of the theater. Adding a 35-foot wide and 100-foot deep adjacent space gives room for bars and lounges on each level, including new bathrooms and elevators that are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. They will be expanding the dressing rooms, widening the stage, and adding a rehearsal stage upstairs.
According to The Visibility Report: Racial Representation on NYC Stages, nearly 80% of Broadway and off-Broadway show writers and directors are white; over 61% of all roles in New York City go to white actors, and 91% of Broadway design slots are filled with white designers. A year ago, a group of theater owners, union leaders, casting directors, and producers started working towards reforms and commitments to ensure the theater industry is diverse, inclusive, and accessible. The series of racial injustice events that took place in 2020 moved these individuals to form Black Theater United, forming The New Deal for Broadway. Artists like LaChanze, Audra McDonald, Wendell Pierce, Billy Porter backed the organization, and the deal quickly became endorsed by a few of Broadway's biggest organizations. Here are two of their demands:
Artists with visual disabilities must be offered Braille audition materials and that the Shubert, Nederlander and Jujamcyn chains have at least one of their theaters named after a Black artist.
To include members of underrepresented communities: in all new contracts they work on, they “will never assemble an all-white creative team on a production again.”
Black Theater United reached an agreement with the three major Broadway landlords to rename one of their theaters after a Black artist. The Nederlander and Jujamcyn theater chains already have it in motion. The Nederlander will be renaming the Brooks Atkinson Theater in honor of Lena Horne, Jujamcyn Theaters has a theater named in honor of August Wilson, and now the Shubert Organization has renamed Cort Theater in honor of James Earl Jones.
Congratulations, Mr. Jones! You’re an inspiration to all.
Photo: Associated Press/Turner Classic Movies