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Regional Vignette: John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

This article first appeared in The Racism Issue of Change Agent.

Last summer, a theater in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood faced backlash for presenting a Spanish-language play featuring a blackface character: a light-skinned actress painted brown with exaggerated red lips. After a story in El Nuevo Herald (the Spanish-language sister publication to the Miami Herald) triggered public outcry, the character was removed. Before that, the production had played to sold-out crowds for five months.

Half of Miami-Dade’s 2 million residents are foreign-born. Per the 2010 Census, Hispanics make up 68% of the population, and 18% of residents are black. In a place that rightly celebrates its diversity, the privilege that allows race parody—an overt dehumanizing of another’s experiences—to comfortably exist on stage still has deep roots.

Miami-based Knight Foundation was not involved in the theater controversy, but as the region’s biggest arts funder, we strive to make every community visible in the arts. For a decade, we’ve run an open call for arts ideas, marketed in English, Spanish, and Creole, and done on-the-ground outreach across city neighborhoods. We have chosen projects that highlight a range of voices and used communications to uplift them. Art in Miami has increasingly become a community connector, a platform to build shared experiences.

This is deliberate work. Knight is constantly thirsty for new ideas built by and for communities. Our practice of openness is driven by a desire to fuel the democratic values of participation and inclusion.

When culture remains insular, we lose these ideals. The theater incident is ultimately a powerful reflection of existing tensions within Miami’s mosaic of backgrounds and people. The conversation it sparked was ripe with diverse voices, triggering a deeper examination of race, privilege, and power. It underscores that narrowing racial divides demands connected action and communication.

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