People are criticising Hamilton for ignoring slavery – and even its creator thinks it's 'fair game'

Joanna Taylor
Tuesday 07 July 2020 15:15
Showbiz
(Jeff Spicer / Getty Images )

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has responded to the "valid" criticism that his musical whitewashes history and ignores the fact that some of the founding fathers owned slaves.

Hamilton faced a renewed backlash after a filmed version of the play was released on streaming platform Disney+.

Miranda wrote on Twitter that he did his "best" to wrestle with the complexities of the story he was telling, but that his final product is "fair game" for criticism.

Miranda's remarks were prompted by Strong Black Leads podcast host Tracy Clayton tweeting that she would have "appreciated more context" around Hamilton and slavery.

Clayton wasn't the only person to criticise the musical's portrayal of the US's founding fathers.

Many people agreed that although the musical itself is brilliant, it should have done more to address the fact that the founding fathers profited from the slave trade.

The musical's title character, Alexander Hamilton, bought and sold slaves, although there is no evidence that he personally owned them.

According to historian Annette Gordon-Reed, Hamilton was not "a champion of the little guy, like the show portrays. He was elitist. He was in favour of having a president for life".

George Washington and James Madison, who are depicted in Hamilton, both owned slaves but this is not directly addressed. Hamilton selling slaves is also not addressed.

This is not the first time that Hamilton has received criticism because of this, and nor is it the first time Miranda has responded.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, Miranda told NPR:

Hamilton, although he voiced anti-slavery beliefs, remained complicit in the system. And other than calling out Jefferson on his hypocrisy with regards to slavery in Act 2, doesn't really say much else over the course of Act 2. And I think that's actually pretty honest.

He didn't really do much about it after that. None of them did. None of them did enough. And we say that, too, in the final moments of the song. So that hits differently now because we're having a conversation, we're having a real reckoning of how do you uproot an original sin? 

Hamilton fans have defended the show by pointing out that it created numerous jobs for BAME people in the theatre industry and inspired Americans to learn more about their country's roots.

It is also important, however, to acknowledge that perpetuating cosy creation myths can result in the sidelining of the parts of history we find less palatable.

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