I am going to try to keep this one brief.
Hamilton is currently making a huge splash on Disney+ and I had my first opportunity to see what all of the buzz was about. I remembered the hype when it first came out and I remembered most of that hype coming from upper class white folks, which now makes total sense. During its Broadway run, average ticket prices were around $300, with premium seats going closer to $1000. Resale prices were even higher. Broadway audiences are disproportionately white, affluent, and educated. In other words, liberal.
So I went into my live action viewing knowing that Lin Manuel Miranda & company rapped for two plus hours about Alexander Hamilton. I also knew that white folks were fascinated by that.
From the beginning, I knew I was in for some serious entertainment. The majority non-white cast simply dazzled the audience at every turn. We learned of Alexander Hamilton’s humble beginnings, ambitions, and role in the American Revolution. Did I mention that the cast was super talented and that the show was incredibly well written? As a fan of hip-hop, it was fun to catch references to the likes of Jay-Z, Biggie, Drake, Snoop, Mobb Deep, and others.
Each song was a banger but, by the time we got to the end of the show, I felt myself thinking much more about the content of the show and the audiences comfort level with it.
Hamilton, even portrayed by a non-white cast with pro-immigrant themes woven in, is still a story about a problematic white dude. The ending fell a little short in my eyes. We got to the end and, all of a sudden, we were supposed to feel bad that Hamilton doesn’t get his due in American History textbooks. Wait, what?
You know who doesn’t get their due in American History textbooks? Native Americans, black abolitionists, migrant farm workers, unionists, and plenty of others. It’s people like Alexander Hamilton that get too much coverage. We are taught to idolize our Founding Fathers, who set up a government for people who looked like they did — rich, white, men. Hamilton, himself, was shown to be a womanizer. He seemed to have a way with words, but still felt the need to settle things with his fists (duels).
It just seemed like an interesting subject for a non-white cast to tackle and raise up. And you know what, I totally get why they did it and don’t fault them in the slightest. What are we taught to do in America, first and foremost? Make money. It was reported that Lin Manuel Miranda takes home upwards of $100,000 a week in Hamilton royalties. Get your money, King. By all accounts, Miranda seems like a good dude. He appears to be charitable and is not a fan of Donald Trump (low bar, I know).
If we’re being honest, a Broadway play featuring a majority non-white cast rapping about Frederick Douglas would not have been a commercial success. It would not get featured on Disney+. Nobody acting in that play would be able to retire off of that show alone. It was cool to see the Founding Fathers depicted as non-white. The content, however, was digestible to the white audience because it was something they were well comfortable with. It was the story of America, and that story is perfect.
What we’re left with is one of the best plays of all-time. I know that I’ve been critical but I genuinely loved the show. I just wish that upper class white people were humming along in their kitchens to a tune about slavery instead of Hamilton cheating on his wife. I wish we got Douglas instead of Hamilton. And I wish Douglas would have been able to have the same success.
In my head, I see George Bush and Barack Obama sitting side by side at a Hamilton viewing, patting themselves on the back, feeling like they did something for race relations.
I’m interested to see what kind of art comes out of the civil unrest that we’re currently living through and hope that something breaks into the mainstream led by the most vulnerable populations in this country calling attention to their American experience. And I hope that that results in some real change — a re-prioritizing of what we’re supposed to value in this country. Maybe we can even create a society where we take care of everyone’s basic needs and nobody has to live not knowing where their next meal is going to come from. One can dream, at least.