It has been one week since “Hamilton” premiered as a movie across billions of streaming devices in the world. Just in time for the 4th of July came America’s latest Broadway sensation, the belle of the ball. Now I must say, when it initially first blew up I as well as many others were intrigued by a hip hop Broadway musical surrounding America’s Caribbean founding father, and first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.
From a historical perspective it is a bit of a shock and odd concept to be quite honest. On the other hand, from a musical perspective, “Hamilton” is brilliant, and easily a game changer for the future of musical theater and Broadway as a whole. But that’s what makes it so beautiful, yet troublesome. The music is breathtaking, the delivery is unmatched, the dancing is synchronous and fluid. The acting is comedic, creating a rhythm of emotions for the audience. These effects are so powerful however that they create an unrealistic fondness for our nation’s founding fathers. Like “Hamilton” (the play/movie), the founding fathers of the United States share a duality of being hypocritically inspirational, meaning there is lots of bad to go with all the good. In fact, Alexander Hamilton was not the abolitionist the play makes him out to be. Hamilton while against slavery indirectly benefited from it. By befriending colonists such as George Washington, and marrying into the Schuyler family, Hamilton rubbed elbows with the elite, who often participated in African enslavement and Native genocide. Those same people are responsible for his social upward mobility.
Additionally, if creative liberties were taken regarding history, why not take liberties regarding the role of women? I felt that the women’s roles were in the minutiae as a whole. Historical liberties are more detrimental to the accuracy of the show than social liberties. I felt that Lin Manuel Miranda could have expanded the role of women much better. Some will argue I am not being “reflective of the time.” But is Hamilton being paraded around as a progressive really reflective of the time? We are talking about a play where Black and Brown people are portraying the founding fathers of the United States of America. Hamilton did not oppose slavery in the way that John Adams, Aaron Burr, or Thomas Paine did.
Most of the founding fathers did not even see Black or Indigenous people as human beings. We have to be careful we don’t label some creative liberties okay, while others not. If there is enough creative freedom to make Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson people of color, then there is enough to expand the role of the women throughout the show. Some may argue that my point about the founding fathers not being Black or Brown hurts future opportunities for BIPOC artists to play European or White characters. While valid, I would also say that that fear is unrealistic given that “Hamilton” was the hip hop musical that created this sort of opportunity to begin with. It was specifically crafted with Black and Brown artists in mind during its development.
During the show there is a recurring theme of xenophobia towards Alexander Hamilton by other historical figures. This is done with the intention to stick it to racist and xenophobic Americans in the audience who like to omit our immigrant origins from history. Hamilton comes back with witty puns throughout the show as a way to uplift immigrant communities in the audience. While pure in intention, realistically Hamilton did not legally immigrate to the United States. It wasn’t even established as a Nation in a way that 90–95% of Americans will ever experience. He was illegally on Indigenous land. Many modern conservative Americans would not like Hamilton, as he probably did not have a student VISA when he attended Columbia University. I could be nitpicking, or we could be realistic about the situation.
This is historical fiction, not pure fantasy. Alexander Hamilton is exactly the type of immigrant that the colonists wanted at the time, an Englishman (despite being from the Caribbean), a male Anglo Saxon. On the other hand, if you pay attention to the current rhetoric around immigrant families, Republicans would say Hamilton was not compliant by today’s process. Regardless, the Native Americans did not ask for Alexander Hamilton, nor George Washington, Columbia University, or any of us for that matter. We must acknowledge that first if we are going to celebrate this amazing musical. While I saw “Hamilton” as an adult, we have a generation of youth that was introduced to Alexander Hamilton via this musical. Without healthy critique, we may erase the darker parts of colonial American history. At a time during major reconciliation in the U.S., it is important we discuss these things, while enjoying this musical masterpiece.
What Lin Manuel Miranda did musically and creatively was genius and unprecedented. I was brought to tears several times throughout the show. I finally felt like my culture was represented on Broadway. That is honestly what saves “Hamilton” in the end given the aforementioned realities. The fact that Miranda created such a show for Black/Brown people will never be forgotten. But I also feel it is a lesson for any similar artist who may be inspired by this type of musical. I do not think he expected “Hamilton” to ever be this big of a phenomena. But with all the musical beauty that “Hamilton” is, it reminds us creatives that with great power, comes great responsibility.