By Karyn Pomerantz, 7-14-2020
Hamilton, the smash Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, has seduced thousands of theatregoers with its hip hop lyrics, dancing, black cast, costumes, and lighting. It is a triumph of form over content.
The musical tells the story of Alexander Hamilton who grows up in the West Indies, arrives in the colonies, and becomes the aide to and US Treasurer under George Washington. He exercises his ambition through alliances with powerful men and his marriage into the slave owning Schuyler family, a travesty which is barely noted in the play.
However, there is little material about Hamilton’s position on banking and federalism, ideas that caused enormous conflict among the men running a new nation.
In the process of wedding rousing stagecraft to colonial politics, Miranda promotes patriotism and the myth of the Founding Fathers as benevolent heroic revolutionaries. In fact, the colonists only exchanged the rule of British exploiters for that of wealthy slave-holding Americans. It is the height of the harm done by identity politics when it glorifies slave owners by casting black actors to portray them, thereby erasing the searing racism and cruelty of slavery. It ignores the role that black soldiers actually played in the Revolutionary War by supporting the British because they promised freedom to their supporters.
Variety raved about the play, acknowledging how Miranda rewrote history.
“Miranda wrote the country’s origin story, recast its founding fathers not as self-serving white supremacist but as idealistic people of color (Variety, 1-30-2020).
An historian criticized its whitewashing of history:
“The way that the story of the founding of the country is told erases people of color… so you know it is possible it never occurred to him (Miranda) that black people were involved in the Revolution (Slate, 4-5-2016).
Hamilton also marginalizes the role of women. It portrays the three sisters involved in his life; one becomes his wife, who is realized as a multi-dimensional character, one is his love interest, and the third has a smaller role. The women in the chorus only play a decorative role, attired in similar costumes and performing in ensembles. None appears to have a distinct personality or point of view.
People who can afford to see it are enchanted with the hip hop, singing, and dancing (as I was), and the multiracial cast members who were excellent. However, there have been many stellar singers, dancers, and actors who were also black and brown, such as Paul Robeson, Carmen Miranda, and Lena Horne. Because of racist ideas of inferiority, the media do not acclaim and promote them, especially to today’s theater and movie goers. We should elevate these performers, playwrights, and other artists who tell the real story of racism and fighting against it, or at least not be involved in erasing racist history.
Hamilton will bring tons of money to Miranda and colleagues, Disney who streams the movie, and the ruling class who gets to promote patriotism and ignore many of the famous founding colonists as enslavers.
Don’t be seduced. Don’t let the exciting production values cloud the truth that the Founding Fathers enshrined slavery, racism, and the marginalization of women in their creation of the United States, a legacy that still exists. Racism still kills millions of people and divides the working class. To turn history on its head by celebrating the early US ruling class, making them more appealing by casting black performers, and embuing the production with hip singing and dancing, Hamilton promotes another big lie about US history.
Miranda could have created many other hits by teaching us genuine antiracist stories.