I originally wrote this as a tweet, then switched to my notes app as it got longer… and then remembered, oh yeah! I have a blog. Duh. So instead of posting screenshots of my notes app, I copied it over here. We all know of the play Hamilton: An American Musical. Whether you’ve seen it or not, in theatre or filmed, you know of it. It happened to launch on Disney in the midst of the height of BLM, so it has sparked some conversation on slavery. Here’s some of my thoughts on Hamilton and the controversy surrounding it:
1. I think people forget that a lot of the intention in this play, besides focusing on a founding father that got very little attention historically, is to show the people against immigration how this country was built was built on immigration. Does it focus on colonization? No. But it’s also a musical about a specific guy’s life, not truly about the nitty gritty details of everything that happened in American history. By casting a diverse cast, it’s a subtle touch on the fact that immigration is okay when it is whites illegally—forcefully—immigrating, but not when Latinx/Muslim/Black/etc people want to take an opportunity to better their lives. You put people of color into these roles and ask if everyone would be so patriotic about the stuff they did if their skin color was different? No, likely, their flaws would outweigh the good they did. Which is the opposite for these white founding fathers. Hamilton did have a pretty shitty upbringing and came to America and found a way to become one of the most important men in the country, and this play absolutely fueled the conversation on how that particular rise in power is available to white men predominately. The “American dream” that is often available and sustainable only for whites.
2. Hamilton was one of the few guys that chose not to own slaves, though his wife’s family did. Don’t get me wrong, all of these guys are pretty shitty in one way or another, but him and Laurens (who he was most likely in love with as he was likely bisexual) were for Black freedom. Hamilton was likely WAY too elitist and worried about creating a government that fit HIS vision to really rally behind the movement, which is also pretty shitty because he was complicit by inaction. He was an often crappy, complex person who also did some cool stuff and you SHOULD recognize that Hamilton wasn’t just some angelic genius, he was often a POS… which I think is pretty obvious in the play. You aren’t expected to romanticize him. But people shouting that he was a slave owner when he was one of three founding fathers that didn’t own slaves is incorrect. Everyone else sure did… but again, this was about Hamilton’s life, not theirs.
3. Fuck yeah, Lin-Manuel, get your bag. He does a lot of good with his money and influence. HE’s a theatre genius. The continuity from one song to another, the specific way he leads from one song to another, the pitch of the words, the perfectly timed moments of laughter, sadness, and overwhelming emotion came together so cohesively. Do I full support a Puerto Rican man grabbing that “American dream” for himself and making himself some money? Yep.
4. Broadway representation matters. This musical was being made regardless. Lin-Manuel made an amazing work of art and it would have been big no matter what. They could have easily cast all white actors, which isn’t in line with hip-hop, rap, or the R&B styles that it imitates, in general. If you want to use those styles, you SHOULD have people that pioneered those genres as actors in your musical. Also, let some of these old fucks roll in their graves while a cast of talented, diverse actors play them. Broadway in general is WHITE AF. This wildly successful play is paying diverse casts of actors. Since Hamilton has been in theatres, diverse casting has been at its highest ever, and there’s still never been less than 60% white casting in New York Broadway. It’s opened up the conversation on the woefully low amount of BIPOC/POC actors in theatre, and the conversation on the need for more Black/non-Caucasian creators and stories in theatre. It is absolutely okay to point that out, but to take all of your anger out about the inequalities in Broadway on the Hamilton production is kind of ridiculous. Hamilton didn’t create this inequality, it has tried to change that inequality. People are enjoying the music, and hopefully smart enough to know that this isn’t historically accurate, is essentially historical fiction, and are seeing relatable actors up there.
5. Upper/upper middle class have been able to afford to see this play, and theatre in general, and the second someone makes a Broadway play available to anyone with streaming capabilities, people wanna shame others or make them feel bad about wanting to see AND enjoy this. Kids are being exposed to theatre. Kids are seeing representation of themselves and falling in love with theatre. People who have never had the money or privilege to see theatre are having an opportunity. Let people enjoy things. Lets not forget that every single Hamilton show ever, across the country/world, holds 40 tickets as a random lottery for people to get tickets for $10, giving lower classes an opportunity to go.
Talk about the inconsistencies, talk about the historically inaccurate aspects. Research those inaccuracies! I have learned A LOT about history on my own accord after seeing this musical. This is a MUSICAL, it’s not supposed to tell us everything we already knew/didn’t know about history. Talk about how shitty and flawed and cruel these men were in addition to their accomplishments. Talk about how we need more plays written, produced, and represented by and for BIPOC/POC. Expect more from the theatre world going forward. Hell, write a historical play, musical, film, book, short story on what YOU’D like to see in regard to Hamilton or any of these founding fathers. This was the story that Lin-Manuel couldn’t get out of his brain and it is adapted for theatre. Scream Black Lives Matter from the roof tops because you SHOULD. Remember that this is a musical, a work of art, or at the very least… just some fun entertainment and you can enjoy it for what it is. You do not need to feel bad for that! You can—and should—also embrace the deeper conversations, intentional or unintentional, caused by this play.
Lastly, here’s where you can donate to Broadway for Racial Justice: Donate
Here’s where you can donate to actors out of work that are being affected by COVID: Donate. You can also push for the COVID relief to be extended, as these actors won’t start getting paid until at least January. Write to your representatives!
Support writers in the industry by donating here: Donate
If you have any other links for donating, please drop them in the comments and I can add them 🙂
2 thoughts on “Hamilton and the Controversy”
Love this post. Yeah there’s a lot of shitty things we could point out about Hamilton and all the founders, but this show was created to do a few specific things…tell a story not often told, tell it from a different viewpoint and style, and tell it with a very diverse cast. It succeeded tremendously. And I see lots of people pointing out it was a perfect show/story for its time (the Obama years). That may be true, but all stories are for a particular time at one level and then reinterpreted in later times. Does this one hold up after a few years? I think so, for all the reasons you listed.
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I completely agree, Jason! Well said.
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