This Tony Winner Has More Than One Reason Why He’ll No Longer Keep His Heritage A Secret

"Your biggest obstacle may turn into your purpose."

The 2018 Tony Awards was a welcome celebration of all things Broadway, but, more importantly, a nod to the diversity and inclusion featured on its historic stages. Ari'el Stachel, who took home the trophy for featured actor in a musical for The Band's Visit, used the time in the spotlight to dedicate his win to some people very close to him.

"Both my parents are here tonight," Stachel began, fighting back tears. "I have avoided so many events with them because, for so many years of my life, I pretended I was not a Middle Eastern person. And after 9/11 it was very, very difficult for me, and so I concealed and I missed so many special events with them. And they're looking at me right now and I can't believe it."

Stachel is of Yemeni Jewish heritage (on his father's side) and Ashkenazi Jewish heritage (on his mother's side), and was both born and raised in Berkeley, California. He got his degree in acting at New York University's Tisch drama department and, prior to originating the role of Haled in The Band's Visit, had cameos on TV shows such as Blue Bloods and Jessica Jones.

"I am part of a cast of actors who never believed that they'd be able to portray their own races and we are doing that," Stachel continued — adding that he is thankful for the story showing Arabs and Israelis getting along. "And not only that, but we're getting messages from kids all over the Middle East thanking us and telling us how transformative our representation is for them."

Photo Credit: John P. Filo / CBS
Photo Credit: John P. Filo / CBS

The Band's Visit, based on the 2007 film of the same name, features a universal theme of overcoming ethnic barriers — a needed reminder at a time when tensions are high in the Middle East. The show took home 10 of the 11 awards it was nominated for, including wins for lead stars Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub, as well as the top prize for best musical.

"I want any kid that's watching to know that your biggest obstacle may turn into your purpose," Stachel concluded before walking off.

Backstage after his big win, Stachel opened up about feeling stigmatized, feeling that he didn't belong, and feeling socially diminished by his identity. That all changed with this role and this win, with Stachel realizing how something you "might be ashamed of can make you feel formidable."

Watch Stachel's emotional acceptance speech here:

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