‘HAMILTON’ FACTS AND FRICTION
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.”