Like most of planet Earth, I saw Hamilton on Disney+ this weekend. Twice. Is this just an updated, sophisticated Schoolhouse Rock presentation, or something deeper? Some scattershot thoughts:
1) Once upon a time, a great New York non-white artist tried through multiple meanings to find America. As a result, he becomes one of the most popular artists in the world. So this is a 21st-century remix. Hamilton is amazing in its constant past-present tensions, its constant double-meanings. Some/here around the fifth time I watch it, I will put the captions on to catch everything.
2) I reserve Lin-Manuel Miranda’s right to have a favorite white writer–one who took his pen and created his persona and shook an elite world in which he gained entry. I definitely do. But I would not write a glowing tribute to his racism and/or create sympathy for his society’s application of it. (Having Thomas Jefferson, the enslaver and rapist of Sally Hemmings, look and act like Prince’s and Morris Day’s love child was genius!) How much more politically powerful this would have been if that silent ensemble had been enslaved Africans, commenting on them! But then it would have made America uncomfortable, see, so….
3) There’s no way this musical would not be loved by any national media personality, artist, writer, thinker of any type. Who would ever hate (on) a pre-written story about a young underdog who by grit and talent moves to New York City, re-invents him/herself and becomes a star and then a legend? We now know it’s not just a post-World-War-II Great American Novel thang, but a popular fantasy that pre-dates the establishment of the nation itself! Hamilton might as well used this song in the prologue or during intermission.
4) It’s still hard for me to worry about who lives, who dies who tells your story while the enslaved Africans’ saga still awaits. Frederick Douglass, Daveed? Daveed? Hello? Hello? Are you gonna make me a fan of (Broadway/Hollywood) biting? And you’re playing him already? Hmm……
5) My simplistic ideological comment has been my favorite since the beginning of the Hamilton phenomenon: If Dick Cheney likes your musical, you’ve written the wrong musical. While I still hold that position while bowing down to Hamilton’s pop-a-ganda greatness, I truly hope that a future Miranda–And I believed it too/And *I* know who *you are*—will grow past this American-fan-service phase into rubbing his subdued anger about the state of his American colony in America’s face, a la the Paul who is no longer Revere-d. 🙂 As I sing along, I truly hope for and look forward to America’s future disappointment in you.
As the mother of a teen–it was necessary for me to see the touring company of Hamilton when it came to Boston. Having said that, same teen much preferred Spamilton to Hamilton–even she saw the irony of the man who brought rap to Broadway scoring Moana. I think it’s interesting to interrogate both what Miranda has done to shift Broadway (as Spamilton does) as well as how it has altered our take on history. Also, interesting that your take goes to how Broadway might treat Frederick Douglass (can we talk about Harriet?) So how do WE interrogate history? How do we tell “our” stories? Thanks for the thoughts!
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