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With the bold decision to make Hamilton accessible to Disney+ subscribers, there comes the question about the minimal attention being paid to American slavery. While I understand that it’s controversial for the Founding Fathers to champion for independence and the freedoms that come with it while still partaking in slave ownership, I am perfectly okay with Hamilton not focusing heavily on this subject.
What this musical does is present not only a tale about an immigrant that is an American Founding Father, but it humanizes the Founding Fathers in a way that many of us are unfamiliar with. They have almost always been revered with an element of dignity and immunity. Any semblance of them as not being capable of human error is minimized with an uncomfortable denial that becomes nothing more than a hush in our art. Thankfully, Hamilton presents that despite the genius behind many of Alexander’s propositions and implemented systems, he was still a complex person. While in a state of disillusionment, Aaron Burr confronts Hamilton’s “common thread of disrespect” and is instead met with the arrogance of “an itemized list of thirty years of disagreements.” It’s unfamiliar to see such negative traits attributed to the creators of America.
There is an enjoyable irony that reaches into the audience’s collective knowledge of American History when Thomas Jefferson in euphoric grandeur proclaims: looking at the rolling fields I can’t believe that we are free. We don’t need this musical to overtly inspire sentiments surrounding slavery. Instead, we are presented with a spectacle of beauty in Black and Brown bodies through rich velvet fabrics and culturally relevant hairstyles. This challenging statement to America the Beautiful is devoid of the powdered wigs and might I add powdered faces of our history books. Immigrants, Indigenous peoples, and Black people have been eradicated from the shaping of America. Many of us were unaware that one of the Founding Fathers was an immigrant. Yet, the minimal, but more tongue in cheek attention to slavery is acceptable. There are many examples within entertainment that deal with a historical context without touching upon every single issue that was prevalent in that history.
Lin Manuel Miranda posed the question: who is Alexander Hamilton? He then answered this question with Hamilton. The creative decisions made by Miranda were necessary to condense a dense story into a better digestible time frame. For some reason, theatergoers are silent to the monolith of White actors and actresses in theatre. I recall when I saw Miss Saigon for the first time being amazed at the amount of Asians and Pacific Islanders gracing the stage. Yet, seeing Asian representation did not make me feel divorced from the emotional weight of the material. I was able to welcome another viewpoint about the Vietnam War. Why is there such difficulty in having similar treatment for Hamilton?
Historical accuracy is allowed to be stretched when it comes to art and entertainment. The role of the artist is to always present a story and the ideal duty of the audience is to use that art as a jumping-off point to further their knowledge. While in high school, a history teacher introduced my class to the musical 1776, although I enjoyed the movie and would love to see its stage adaptation, I appreciate it deeply when coupled with Hamilton.
Musical theatre is already seen as an elite medium, and Miranda’s brave inclusion of primarily African American musical genres in this staple with traditional musical methods is brilliant. The historical plethora of African American music has served as an extension of rebellion, oral tradition, and collective healing. Here, on the stage, we see amazing vernacular flawlessly recited by a reflection of America’s “forgotten” communities as they present a tale of America’s silenced Founding Father. To focus on the sheer trauma and depths of chattel slavery is not meant for this specific creative work.