As you’re undoubtedly already aware, the filmed version of Hamilton is now available to stream on Disney Plus. Ever since it was added to the Disney+ lineup, the discussion surrounding Hamilton has basically blown up. On the one hand, you have your diehard Hamilton fans (aka Hamilfans) who could not be more excited to see their favorite Broadway show on television (many, many times in a row).
However, the discussion surrounding Hamilton has not been completely positive. There are many people who feel some of the things Hamilton got wrong make it a problematic addition to the Disney+ lineup. And, because this is the internet, some people are taking this to the extreme conclusion of wanting to “cancel” the popular show. So, why do people want to cancel Hamilton? Here’s what you need to know.
Why do people want to cancel ‘Hamilton’?
One of the main issues people seem to have with Hamilton is the fact there is very little mention that many of the show’s main characters, particularly George Washington, were owners of enslaved people in real life. While the concept of slavery isn’t completely absent from the musical (it’s mentioned in the third stanza of the very first song and comes up frequently regarding Thomas Jefferson), many feel that the show presents a whitewashed version of historical figures — including Alexander Hamilton himself.
There’s also the fact that, when the United States of America’s founders were creating this new country, they were actively stealing land from Indigenous people who already lived there. Unlike slavery, the displaced and maltreated Indigenous population doesn’t even get a mention in the musical.
For better or for worse, the Hamilton film came to Disney+ right in the middle of a renewed national discussion surrounding racism and white supremacy — some of the very values the U.S. was founded on. Of course, in Hamilton, the story is of victory and celebration. That has left many people feeling uncomfortable celebrating the film’s release.
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— tracy clayton aka CHUBBA BEEF (@brokeymcpoverty) July 5, 2020
Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda himself has responded to some of this criticism. Recently, writer Tracy Clayton took to Twitter to share some of her own thoughts. Ultimately, she said, “‘[H]amilton’ is a flawed play about flawed people written by an imperfect person,” and that while she would have enjoyed seeing more context given to the slavery that was actually going on when the play takes place, she also realizes that writing about history and historical figures is “hard and messy.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda responded to Tracy’s thread, saying, “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
Lin has also spoken openly about the failings of the U.S. founders. In an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Lin said that every character in the show is complicit in slavery in some way or another. “Hamilton — although he voiced anti-slavery beliefs — remained complicit in the system,” Lin said.
“And other than calling out Jefferson on his hypocrisy with regards to slavery in Act 2 [of the show], doesn't really say much else over the course of Act 2. [...] He didn't really do much about it after that. None of them did. None of them did enough.”
It can be difficult to know exactly what the right move is when it comes to enjoying things that other people find problematic. Ultimately, it’s important to understand that history is just as complicated and nuanced as the present. Also, a Broadway musical probably shouldn’t be your only source of historical knowledge. It’s a tricky conversation to have, but an important one, too. We’re just happy to see people actually having it!