The darling of cultured American society — the hip-hop musical “Hamilton” — is under the gun because it places a Founding Father in too good a light.
The criticism and calls to “cancel Hamilton” come as Disney Plus released a filmed version of the play to great success last week.
— Variety (@Variety) July 6, 2020
Variety reported the “Hamilton” movie features the original cast of the Broadway play, which debuted in 2015.
The cast is made up of nearly all minority actors and performers.
In the title role of Alexander Hamilton is Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote the script and music for the production, which won 11 Tony Awards in 2016, including Best Musical and Best Original Score.
Miranda’s story was based on the bestselling book “Hamilton” by Ron Chernow, who consulted on the play.
The show earned a Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2016.
In other words, you cannot find higher artistic accolades than “Hamilton” received.
That was then; this is now.
CNN reported Tuesday that “‘Hamilton’ has been criticized by those who believe it doesn’t accurately portray the horrors of slavery and glosses over the role in it played by America’s founding fathers.”
The criticism “has broadened with the release of the film in the time of intense focus on the Black Lives Matters movement,” the news outlet added.
Miranda responded to some of the criticism, which Tracy Clayton, host of the Netflix podcast “Strong Black Legends,” summarized in a series of tweets.
She wrote, “im late w the hamilton criticism stuff & im clearly biased but.. i really like that this conversation is happening. hamilton the play and the movie were given to us in two different worlds & our willingness to interrogate things in this way feels like a clear sign of change.”
“i totally get the frustration about it being a play about slaveholders that is not about slavery. ive felt that in lots of things i watch, but i flex the same muscle i use when i listen to hip hop as a black woman. we enjoy problematic things all the time.”
i totally get the frustration about it being a play about slaveholders that is not about slavery. ive felt that in lots of things i watch, but i flex the same muscle i use when i listen to hip hop as a black woman. we enjoy problematic things all the time
— tracy clayton aka CHUBBA BEEF (@brokeymcpoverty) July 5, 2020
Clayton conceded being a fan (on the record) of both the play and Miranda and went on to note that “navigating history and historical figures is hard and messy. humans are flawed and messy, both the ones who lived then & the ones reading and writing about them now.”
Miranda responded, “Appreciate you so much, @brokeymcpoverty. All the criticisms are valid. 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.”
Appreciate you so much, @brokeymcpoverty. All the criticisms are valid. 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. https://t.co/mjhU8sXS1U
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) July 6, 2020
It’s a shame that Miranda did not defend his work more forcefully.
One of the wonderful messages that comes from “Hamilton” is that what the Founders accomplished transcends race.
It’s powerful to see people of different backgrounds portraying these heroes, whose central message from the era, contained in the Declaration of Independence, animated and directed the American experiment in liberty for nearly 250 years:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Contrary to what’s being taught in The New York Times’ 1619 Project curriculum in 3,500 classrooms across 50 states, a primary cause of the Revolutionary War was not slavery.
Slavery was introduced in the British colony of Virginia in 1619, over 150 years before the founding of the United States.
The Declaration of Independence, which lists dozens of grievances the colonies had against the king and Parliament, makes just a passing reference to slavery by pointing to England’s efforts to “excite domestic insurrections.”
Also working against The Times’ narrative, almost all the states north of the Mason-Dixon Line had voted to abolish slavery by the end of the war in 1783.
By 1804, all the Northern states had passed legislation ending slavery.
No other governments in the world were taking similar action at that time. In other words, Americans led the way in the abolition movement.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the drafters of the declaration who had owned slaves earlier in his life, became president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society after the Revolutionary War.
Many of the Founders, including John and Samuel Adams of Massachusetts and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, never owned slaves.
While it is true that Virginians Thomas Jefferson — the primary drafter of the declaration — and George Washington were both slaveholders, they came out in opposition to the institution and took action against it.
Hamilton — who served as a military aide to Washington during the Revolutionary War and fought bravely at the decisive Battle of Yorktown — became president of the New York Manumission Society after the war.
The group’s purpose was to end slavery, which New York voted to do in 1799.
Hamilton’s contributions to the founding of the United States also included being a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, authoring some of the Federalist Papers (written in support of the Constitution’s adoption) and serving as the nation’s first treasury secretary.
Pretty major stuff.
His life, however imperfect, is worthy of celebrating.
“The radical view of American history is a web of lies — all perspective is removed, every virtue is obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact is distorted, and every flaw is magnified until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond all recognition,” the president said.
‘The radical view of American history is a web of lies; all perspective is removed, every virtue obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact is distorted, every flaw is magnified, until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond all recognition’#MtRushmoreSpeech pic.twitter.com/4D1QOX2njU
— Heather Champion (@winningatmylife) July 4, 2020
The Founders deserve our respect. They risked everything to launch a nation that became the most diverse and prosperous on earth: not by accident either, but by design.
As a wise president once said, the United States at its birth was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
And we continue to reap the blessings of that noble undertaking to this day.
Randy DeSoto is the author of “We Hold These Truths,” which examines the influence of the Declaration of Independence throughout American history.
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