As mu­si­cal’s por­trayal of Found­ing Fathers’ his­tory with slav­ery is re­ex­am­ined, Mi­randa says crit­i­cism is ‘all fair game’


It may not be an in­fa­mous duel, but some crit­ics are tak­ing their shots at the re­newed pop­u­lar­ity of the mu­si­cal “Hamil­ton.”

With a staged pro­duc­tion of the mega-pop­u­lar show now stream­ing on Dis­ney+, there is a fresh ef­fort to look at the mu­si­cal’s por­trayal of the Found­ing Fathers and their com­pli­cated his­tory with slav­ery — es­pe­cially now with Black Lives Mat­ter be­ing such a large part of the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion and more eyes on “Hamil­ton” than ever.

“Hamil­ton” creator Lin-Manuel Mi­randa even ad­mit­ted that “all the crit­i­cisms are valid” on Twit­ter on Mon­day. “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’s tweet was in re­sponse to a se­ries of mis­sives by writer Tracy Clay­ton, host of Net­flix’s “Strong Black Le­gends” pod­cast, say­ing he ap­pre­ci­ated “so much” that Clay­ton was giv­ing nu­ance to the con­flicted po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment that “Hamil­ton” lands in to­day. She pointed out that “Hamil­ton” the play — which pre­miered in 2015 dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion — and the new movie “were given to us in two dif­fer­ent worlds” and called the “will­ing­ness” to de­bate “a clear sign of change.”

In the mu­si­cal, Alexan­der Hamil­ton (Mi­randa) takes a jab at Thomas Jef­fer­son (Daveed Diggs) for hav­ing slaves at his Mon­ti­cello home dur­ing a Cab­i­net meet­ing/rap bat­tle: “A civics les­son from a slaver, hey neigh­bor/Your debts are paid ’cause you don’t pay for la­bor.” His­tor­i­cally, Hamil­ton wasn’t known to have kept slaves but he bought and sold those work­ing for his wife’s fam­ily, the Schuylers. “He was not an abo­li­tion­ist,” Har­vard his­tory pro­fes­sor An­nette Gor­don-Reed said in 2016.

The crit­i­cism around the mu­si­cal has bub­bled over the years as it be­came a Broad­way sen­sa­tion. In an in­ter­view with the As­so­ci­ated Press last year, Louisiana State Univer­sity his­tory pro­fes­sor Nancy Isen­berg called the mu­si­cal “a fic­tional re­write of Hamil­ton. You can’t pick the his­tory facts that you want.”

On Fri­day, writer Rox­ane Gay tweeted that she had some is­sues with how “Hamil­ton” “ide­al­izes the founders, and how such a bril­liant mu­si­cal dan­ger­ously elides (their) real­i­ties of slav­ery.” Gay also is not a fan of a mo­ment with Sally Hem­ings, a slave with whom Thomas Jef­fer­son had a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship, is “played for laughs.” But she raved that “it’s a bril­liant show’’ that ‘‘can han­dle crit­i­cal en­gage­ment.”

In the Twit­ter thread Mi­randa re­sponded to, Clay­ton said she “would have ap­pre­ci­ated more con­text” about the real-life Found­ing Fa­ther’s in­volve­ment with slav­ery, “but to lump it in” with the cur­rent con­tro­versy of what to do with stat­ues of his­tor­i­cal fig­ures like Christophe­r Colum­bus and Robert E. Lee “de­nies this con­ver­sa­tion the nu­ance it de­serves (and) we’re ca­pa­ble of giv­ing it that.

“Nav­i­gat­ing his­tory and his­tor­i­cal fig­ures is hard and messy. Hu­mans are flawed and messy, both the ones who lived then (and) the ones read­ing and writ­ing about them now.”


Lin-Manuel Mi­randa por­trays Alexan­der Hamil­ton and Phillipa Soo plays El­iza Hamil­ton in a filmed ver­sion of the orig­i­nal Broad­way pro­duc­tion of “Hamil­ton.”

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