J. Harrison Ghee and Alex Newell have made LGBTQ+ history with their recent Tony Award nominations.
On 2 May, the two powerhouse talents became the first non-binary actors to earn acting nominations at the longstanding ceremony.
Newell, who goes by he/she/they pronouns, snagged their first Tony nomination for “best performance by an actor featured in a musical” for their role as whiskey distiller Lulu in Schucked the Musical.
As for Ghee, who also uses he/she/they pronouns, the talented singer took home the coveted nomination for “best performance by an actor in a leading role in a musical” for their portrayal of Jerry/Daphne in Some Like It Hot.
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, the two musical talents expressed excitement over their groundbreaking nomination, and the Tony Awards move toward inclusivity.
“It’s a step in the right direction because there are so many gender non-conforming and nonbinary performers that might not ever get to shine because of these gendered categories,” Newell said.
Ghee added: “It’s such an honor. I just continue to live in the four-fold way of living. I show up, tell my truth in the present, and I’m not attached to the outcome. So I’m just honored that the work is speaking for itself, and I’m so proud of the special show we’ve got going on at the Shubert.”
While Ghee and Newell have made history for their nominations, the Tony Awards have faced criticism for keeping their gendered categories.
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Back in February, & Juliet star Justin David Sullivan – who uses he/she/they pronouns – withdrew their name from consideration due to the ceremony’s lack of inclusive categories for “gender-expansive or trans non-binary performers.”
Non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon, who starred in the acclaimed production of Macbeth, also withdrew their name from consideration ahead of the 2022 Tony Awards.
Months before landing their recent nominations, Ghee and Newell opened up about why they kept their names in the show’s actor categories.
“I went based off the English language. The standard has always been a male is an actor and a female as an actress. And I don’t like that. Because when I say I’m an actor, I mean that is my profession, the craft that I studied, the craft that I’m doing,” Newell explained to Variety in April. “Everyone who does acting is an actor. That is genderless.”
Newell also described the nonbinary talents who withdrew their name from consideration as “admirable.”
“I find it admirable. There’s a flip side that’s heartbreaking, but that was the only option for someone who does not feel either. It should be a wake-up call. Change is inevitable, and it will happen, but we need to move a little faster,” they added.
In an interview with Elle, Ghee echoed similar sentiments, stating: “Staying in was very intentional… someone else’s labels or limits are not going to bound me and my ability to do anything. My artistry and the work will speak for itself.”
The 2023 Tony Awards are set to air on 11 June and will be hosted by Ariana DeBose.
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