I was very excited to review Hamiltonthis week, as it had debuted on Disney Plus (Disney’s streaming service) this past weekend. Sadly, though, this is not the article I am going to write. As I’ve previously covered, I firmly believe cancel culture is doing more harm than good in the fight for racial equality.
Today, though, I’m going to make an even bolder statement, as I’m frankly disgusted after the news that has broken today. Specifically, I’m going out a limb and saying this – the idea of canceling Hamilton is downright ridiculous and I am calling for an end to obsessive cancel culture as well as an end to apologizing when you’ve done nothing wrong.
What’s #CancelHamilton about?
Prior to getting into my opinion, let’s first review what the news today was. According to multiple reports on the internet, Hamilton is under fire due to the way it fails to depict the horrific conditions of slavery/slaves, and kind of skirts past these issues rather than attacking them head-on. While it should be noted that the show has nothing really to do with slavery- as it’s more about the founding fathers (some of whom, horrifically did own slaves)- reports noted that this was something that was discussed when the show originally premiered on Broadway in 2015, but now with the Black Lives Matter movement being more on the forefront, the discussion about the issues surrounding Hamilton are being re-examined.
While Lin Manuel-Miranda did make his Twitter private for a bit (likely due to the backlash and #CancelHamilton trending), he did end up making it back to a public account.
Tracy Clayton, the host of Netflix’s Strong Black Legends Podcast, tweeted “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.”
To this, Miranda quoted it and responded that “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.”
Here’s why canceling Hamilton is absurd…
To even see Lin Manuel-Miranda acknowledging that this is “fair game” to criticize his brilliant work of art- that is one of the most inclusive pieces of musical theater I’ve ever seen- is sad to me. And, the idea of canceling Hamilton over this seems ridiculously absurd.
Before you attack me, hear me out, as I am laying out specifically why Hamilton, of all things, would be ignorantly incorrect to cancel.
Let’s start by looking at the original Broadway cast of Hamilton. The show is written by Lin Manuel-Miranda, a Puerto Rican man. Since Puerto Ricans are a minority, that’s already an asset when talking about diversity and inclusivity in the Broadway world. Not only that, but Hamilton, which is a story about Alexander Hamilton and the other founding fathers, had a largely diverse cast. There is no denying that all of the men (and women) who the show is based on were white, but when the show was cast, it saw beyond that narrative and pushed a new story forward to be inclusive of ALL Americans. It wanted us to see every facet of America captured, so Lin Manuel-Miranda cast African-Americans in roles such as George Washington and Angelica Schuyler. Interestingly, if the show was to be “canceled” it would also put the actors and actresses in it who are minorities out of work, so that seems counter-productive as well.
In addition to the casting, Miranda’s lyrics in SO many portions of the show speak to equality. One specific lyric even addresses slavery, declaring loudly that “We’ll never be free until we end slavery!” Slavery is again addressed in another part of the show where they are having a cabinet meeting and state “calling on Congress to end the African slave trade and abolish slavery, in all its forms.” “Slavery’s a sin, it’s growing like a cancer,” the song (entitled Cabinet Battle 3) later states. It also notes that “Institutionalizing slavery only multiples our troubles.” While I in no way condone slavery or racism- and find both appalling- the idea being put on the table that the show “ignores” slavery is just not the case. If it fully ignored slavery, it wouldn’t address it at all. Furthermore, the focus of the plot of the show is Alexander Hamilton’s rise and fall, not a show about slavery or historical atrocities.
Other lyrics addressing equality include the following:
- “Immigrants, we get the job done” (a brilliant lyric, in my opinion, recognizing the importance of not discrediting or discounting how important immigrants are in our culture and have always been in our culture from day one).
- “When I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m gonna compel him to include women in the sequel” (a very important line for gender equality, as women almost always aren’t recognized in history as much as they should be. This line was also particularly powerful the last time I saw the show in person, as it happened to be election night 2016. Everyone erupted in applause, as we thought Hillary Clinton would become the first female President that night. As we now know, that wasn’t the case, but this line still has great importance regardless).
- “You want a revolution? I want a revolution” (this lyric is important not only historically- as it took a revolutionary war to break free from British rule but also rings true today. We are seeing revolutionary actions from the Black Lives Matter movement that people seem to finally be paying attention to. While this hurts me to my core that things had to go this far to get people to pay attention, the lyric raises a good point for today. We need a revolution sometimes to finally get people to pay attention, invoke change, and establish equality).
- “History has its eyes on you” (this lyric is repeated more than once in the show and has always seemed like a call to action. History has its eyes on you, so make sure you’re doing what’s right to work towards a better world. Sadly, a lot of what is going on today makes me feel like people need to be slapped with this reminder in the face. Like it or not, though, our stories will be told in history books, so what can we do to help tell the right story, the better story, that makes a better place for our children?)
Talking about history brings me to another point as to why canceling Hamilton is ridiculous. We cannot ignore history, whether it’s wrong or right. My Grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. She was the only living member out of her entire family, and due to this, we still don’t have a lot of family. With that being said, though, I in no way feel that movies or shows or books that discuss the Holocaust should be canceled. It’s an awful part of history, and it should be shown and discussed so that people never forget it happened and we never allow history like that to repeat itself.
In the same vein, the history of this country had figureheads who owned slaves. No one is denying slavery is wrong and horrific, but it IS a part of the history of America regardless, just like the Holocaust IS a part of the history in Germany. Neither of these things is correct or acceptable, but just like with not stopping discussing the Holocaust, I think we need to continue to discuss the history surrounding slavery so that people don’t forget how horrific it was. Again, though, the focal point of Hamilton is not about slavery, so to criticize it for not hyper-focusing on it doesn’t really make much sense.
I’m not the only one who thinks this #CancelHamilton is ridiculous…
After stating that these criticisms prove you can “never be woke enough,” she went on to note that “Lin Manuel Miranda bent over backward to be as inclusive as he could be. He cast non-White actors to play historically White figures. He celebrated Hamilton as being an immigrant.”
“But, now it’s just not good enough,” she continued, “which goes to prove that you just cannot appease these cultural revolutionaries. Winston Churchill said appeasement is just feeding the crocodile in the hopes that it will eat you last. You have to stand up.”
In the Fox News article, they also mention that Lin Manuel-Miranda apologized on Hamilton’s Twitter account with a statement (although, in looking at it, it seems the statement was from May of this year). They note he said that “he spoke out on the day of the Pulse shooting. We spoke out when Vice President Mike Pence came to our show 10 days after the election. That we have not yet firmly spoken the inarguable truth that Black Lives Matter and denounced systematic racism and white supremacy from our official ‘Hamilton’ channels is a moral failure on our part.”
Devine responded to the apology in her conversation with Fox and Friends going on to note that, “They’re sort of trapped. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome if you’re a liberal and you’re caught in this woke revolution. You can’t believe that you’re on the wrong side of history,” Devine said.
“It’s really not about the individual sins or the sins of Alexander Hamilton,” she went on to note. “It’s really about trying to erase and cancel American history and cast everything in the past as being irredeemably racist and hateful. President Trump called it out in his speech at Mount Rushmore: the cancel culture is this left-wing fascist, totalitarian ideology and they want a ground zero. They want to destroy everything about America, everything that is good and start from the beginning to create God knows what. I think they’re all about destruction.”
While I definitely disagree with some of her points at the end here- that some people want to ‘destroy everything about America’ and are ‘all about destruction’- as well as take issue with comments Trump has made, the point she illustrates about being “trapped” does ring true. If Lin Manuel-Miranda didn’t address this, he could risk being deemed as a racist, even though he is clearly the furthest thing from the racist. He has worked so hard to not only bring Hamilton to light, but he also brought us In The Heights (which tells the story of a Puerto Rican community in Washington Heights).
With Hamilton, Lin Manuel-Miranda created one of the most significant pieces of theatrical art to ever exist. For those to discount it and call for it to be canceled is ridiculous. Sadly, no piece of art- historical or otherwise- is going to be able to encompass every single person’s experience and address every atrocity that ever existed. That doesn’t mean these pieces don’t have value, though, and should be immediately dismissed and canceled. If we continue to subscribe to this rhetoric, we are going to have nothing left.