My Quick Thoughts About “In The Heights”


a) Lin-Manuel Miranda reminds me how Ta-Nehisi Coates described Barack Obama: an activist, not a protester. (Nice move he made with NPR’s Maria Hinojosa to get some intellectual/activist cred! :)) This is the most thoroughly gentle–even if ever-present!–film portrayal of systemic white supremacy I’ve seen on film. Miranda, who loves 20th-century white popular culture at least as much as I do 🙂 , does NOT want to upset Whitey, EVER. 🙂 Having said that, I enjoyed seeing the undocumented struggle included in this. It shows how, like Coates, he is VERY careful. 
b) This story is highly cultural–very BROWN, the way Hamilton is (ironically!) very WHITE. (I can see Miranda on that Heights vacation, reading that Ron Chernow bio and going: “Yes! I can now go completely in a new and opposite direction, like an artist should! Past instead of presentwhite instead of Black/Brown, historical narrative instead of love letter, naked, individual ambition instead of family/community survival, birth of a nation instead of death of a neighborhood!”) As a concept, Hamilton makes a LOT of sense to me now. You can clearly see the themes in both New York-centric, immigrant-centric musicals that attract Miranda–the power of personal drive and dreams with/versus sacrificial commitment to family and community, etc.
c) Whether it is culturally stereotypical I will leave for Brown people to discuss. To this outsider, it looks like he’s trying to hit EVERY cultural mark. 
d) Because Hamilton was first for me, this seemed like a workshop to test out the style he would perfect with the slaveholders. 🙂

JUNE 12th UPDATE: So now that I’ve laid my issues on the table, I will admit he’s a FREAKIN’ GENIUS!!! Have you seen the teaser (below) for his directorial debut?!? And the Oscar goes to…. 😉 The year 2021 is only halfway through, and he’s already its savior!! LOL!!!

5 Really, Really, Really Late Thoughts About “Hamilton”

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.