As July began, fans around the world gathered in front of their TV screens to celebrate the Disney+ premiere of the Broadway show Hamilton. Written and directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the film version of the hit musical — which fits six years of history into two and a half hours — has received resounding acclaim, along with a host of hater perspectives.
From the show’s depiction of the Founding Fathers to its coverage of slavery and complaints over historical inaccuracies, social media has seen a flurry of feedback about the film. While some critics have valid points, there’s no discounting the positive impact the show has had in decolonizing the usually white-dominated Broadway stage while also leaving its mark as one of the best shows in history.
Here’s a breakdown of the most common criticisms of the film along with rebuttals that should leave fans satisfied and may even change the way naysayers look at Hamilton forever.
Hamilton glorifies slavery and slave owners.
The #CancelHamilton Twitter trend that seeks to pressure Disney+ to remove the film is short-sighted at best. If Miranda’s show is your first and only history lesson on the Founding Fathers and their slaves, colonialism, sexism, imperialism and militarism, you have bigger problems. It’s not Hamilton’s job to educate people on history, it’s meant to entertain. Even in a college classroom, the entire lesson of these founding fathers couldn’t be properly covered in a two-hour class.
If you didn’t know who Maria Reynolds was, your lack of education is to blame, not the show. Moreover, the show has created a new wave of interest about people that have otherwise been undesired historical figures, especially for people of color. And just like classic Disney films, Pocahontas and Mulan, the historical context and the character interpretations have value, even if they are flawed. BIPOC couldn’t see ourselves in relation to these white colonizers, but now there’s a new interest, and that has led to some much needed cultural analysis, as we share here.
Hamilton’s use of hip-hop and rap to celebrate the Founding Fathers is racist.
The show isn’t necessarily celebrating the Founding Fathers through music. The music that Miranda created seems to be about the performers, rather than their characters. As Miranda explained, Hamilton is a story of America “then” told by America “now.”
Through this lens, the story illustrates a country that’s made up of immigrants, Black people, people of color and musical forms that dare to color outside the lines. Some are offended because they misunderstand the layering of two messages in Hamilton. The first layer is the storyline of Alexander Hamilton that loosely follows the historical figure’s life. Like the history books, this story is not only somewhat boring, but also full of racism and anti-Blackness. When you add the second layer of the show, the fun begins.
The show’s mostly POC cast perform rap numbers and use slang to add some seasoning and freshness to a very bland and stale soup that, frankly, most people are tired of being fed. The dominant rhetoric tells marginalized communities that we can only be typecasted in certain stories and can never be anything other than slaves or the help, particularly in productions dated around 1776. Miranda dodges this so-called rule by showing that we can play any roles we want and can do them with a multitude of talent that the theater stage seldom gets to see all at once. Miranda is challenging a white-dominated Broadway and that’s more important than covering history perfectly. It’s OK because he’s not a historian, he’s a Broadway actor and director.
Hamilton isn’t appropriate for children.
Honestly, there isn’t anything in Hamilton that will show children anything they haven’t seen or heard before. Plus, it’s been censored by Disney + to remove most profanity. If parents are still vehemently against their children watching the film, maybe just playing the musical numbers would be fine. Again, it’s about representation here. Few shows show a young Black boy on stage, much less feature him as the star.
The theater world is still segregated. While some feel that Black people playing traditionally white characters is tokenization, Miranda made sure that there were no token characters. Some have said that Jonathan Groff — the only white main cast member — is a token character, but it doesn’t work that way either. Tokenism is a tool of white privilege that is specifically constructed to commodify BIPOC without allowing them to access adequate representation.
Sitting down as a family to watch this musical is an opportunity for parents to talk to their children about how opportunities for Black people are so important. It’s doesn’t have to be a direct segue to discussing the history of Alexander Hamilton, other than to tell children that the musical is not the way things actually happened. Still, it is a reminder for parents to talk about the flaws of the Founding Fathers — a conversation that’s historically excluded from the classroom — and that’s good. Many children grow up knowing nothing about these realities, and Hamilton can inspire this dialog.
The play didn’t translate well to film format.
It’s not that the filming was bad, it’s just impossible to adapt a stage musical into a movie and have it look exactly as intended. While there were some trade-offs, and there’s no replicating live performance, the ability to zoom in and see detailed character expression is a plus. Being able to pause and have discussion about what is shown and rewind certain parts adds to the experience as well. For those who were already fans, the film version should only add a new layer of appreciation. Those new to the production should see it as a a reminder of the uniqueness and significance of live stage performance versus watching a movie.
The actors’ spittle was gross!
That’s Broadway realness for you, and just another reason to appreciate the Disney+ film version of this now classic production.