Following the recent Disney+ release of “Hamilton,” history has its eyes on Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The historically inspired hip-hop musical from Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent, has been praised for its diverse cast, which gives all of its most prominent roles to people of color. However, amid a year marked by protests over police brutality and racial injustice, the film version debuted to a nuanced response on social media, with critics questioning how a show about people who owned slaves just brushes past that fact.
Now, Miranda is responding.
Tracy Clayton, writer and host of Netflix’s “Strong Black Legends” podcast, expounded on the criticism in several tweets, noting that the Broadway musical, which debuted in 2015, and the filmed Disney + release were “given to us in two different worlds.”
“Our willingness to interrogate things in this way feels like a clear sign of change,” Clayton wrote, noting in another tweet that “frustration” over “a play about slaveholders that is not about slavery” is understandable, and that the conversation deserves nuance.
Addressing Clayton’s tweets, Miranda wrote that “all the criticisms are valid.”
“The sheer tonnage of complexities & failings of these people I couldn’t get. Or wrestled with but cut. I took 6 years and fit as much as I could in a 2.5 hour musical. Did my best. It’s all fair game,” Miranda said.
Slavery isn’t ignored in “Hamilton.” For instance, Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton notably brings it up during a cabinet battle against Thomas Jefferson, rapping, “A civics lesson from a slaver, hey neighbor. Your debts are paid ’cause you don’t pay for labor. ‘We plant seeds in the South. We create.’ Yeah, keep ranting. We know who’s really doing the planting.”
However, it is drastically understated. Historian Lyra Monteiro told Slate in 2016 that the production uses “Founders Chic,” which portrays America’s founding fathers as “relatable, cool guys” but tends to downplay their roles in upholding slavery.
“Washington’s ownership of slaves isn’t mentioned at all. He’s this perfect father figure and he has nothing to do with slavery. Even though he was as embedded in slavery, of course, as Jefferson was,” Monteiro said.
“Hamilton” was originally going to address slavery more, but Miranda revealed to Rolling Stone in 2016 that a rap battle between Hamilton, Jefferson and James Madison on the subject was cut:
In the end, no one does anything. Which is what happened in reality! So we realized we were bringing our show to a halt on something that none of them really did enough on.
Tweeting her thoughts on the “Hamilton” criticism, director Ava DuVernay wrote that though slavery isn’t central to the story, it’s not ignored.
“I greatly enjoyed the work and was wildly curious after watching. I wouldn’t have studied any of those ‘founders’ like I did if it wasn’t for #Hamilton and @Lin_Manuel,” DuVernay wrote.
Talking to NPR last month, Miranda said he was heartened by “Hamilton” lyrics being used on signs in anti-racism protests and spoke about all the characters in the musical being complicit in slavery.
“Hamilton — although he voiced anti-slavery beliefs — remained complicit in the system,” Miranda said. “And other than calling out Jefferson on his hypocrisy with regards to slavery in Act 2, doesn’t really say much else over the course of Act 2.”
“And I think that’s actually pretty honest,” he continued. “He didn’t really do much about it after that. None of them did. None of them did enough. And we say that, too, in the final moments of the song. So that hits differently now because we’re having a conversation, we’re having a real reckoning of how do you uproot an original sin?”
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