The Black Emperor of Broadway
is widely available, tomorrow, September 15, 2020. iTunes (Drama, Bio-Pic)
A century ago, in 1920, Charles Gilpin was the first Black leading man of Broadway. At a time when white men performed in blackface, a burgeoning playwright, Eugene O’Neill, defied the establishment and cast Gilpin as his leading man in an ‘edgy’ new play, “The Emperor Jones.”
The collaboration was a certified success. Audiences were thrilled. Both skyrocketed – O’Neill to power and Gilpin to the pinnacle of stardom.
The New York Tribune observed that “Gilpin is great. It is a performance of heroic stature” (4 Nov. 1920)
But something didn’t sit right with Gilpin. The words his character, Brutus Jones, spoke become more than words on a page, they were a misrepresentation.
He demanded change. He held his ground. He lost everything.
Though this champion has been lost to history, Charles Gilpin changed the course of American theatre.
As Broadway’s first Black leading man: Why is Charles Gilpin lost to the pages of history? Why are his achievements and his name not celebrated?