Why Should Virginia Bear It?
November 12, 2016 12:42 PM   Subscribe

No amount of casting people of color disguises the fact that they’re erasing people of color from the actual narrative.
Hamilton: not as revolutionary as it seems

"...all of the main characters are being played by people of color, but there are no historical people of color represented."
Rebecca Onion interviewed Lyra Monteiro.

It is problematic to have black and brown actors stand in for the great white men of the early United States in a play that does not acknowledge that the ancestors of these same actors were excluded from the freedoms for which the founders fought. This realization brings attention to a truly damning omission in the show: despite the proliferation of black and brown bodies onstage, not a single enslaved or free person of color exists as a character in this play.
(From Monteiro's paper, Race-Conscious Casting and the Erasure of the BlackPast in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton)
posted by wonton endangerment (65 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think the criticism of the bootstrap narrative in particular is really on point, but I am outraged by the suggestion that Phillippa Soo "reads as white".
posted by capricorn at 1:12 PM on November 12, 2016 [31 favorites]


True, Daveed Diggs gets to play the Marquis de Lafayette, but where's James Armistead Lafayette, patriot and spy? His infiltrating the camps of Benedict Arnold and Lord Cornwallis to gain vital intelligence on British troop movements ought to be worth a verse or two in "Yorktown" since he arguably did as much as, if not more, to help win that battle as Hercules Mulligan.
posted by Doktor Zed at 1:26 PM on November 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


A little surprised that the listing of Hamilton criticism doesn't include this piece. Which happens to pretty much perfectly mirror my own thoughts about the musical (although I actually like the music, and I think the lyrics are a mixed bag- there are some great lines along with some cringeworthy ones).

Oh welp, upon checking the date, this article predates the one I linked. Still, it's relevant.
posted by perplexion at 1:26 PM on November 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


Hamilton criticism is sort of ridiculous. Lin did not set out to fix everything wrong with race in America. He told a story the best way he knows how.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:32 PM on November 12, 2016 [76 favorites]


It would have been natural enough to incorporate Washington's slave William Lee if you wanted to point out that Jefferson wasn't the only slave-owning Founder.

An embarrassment to Hamilton's abolitionist cred is, he bought some slaves, probably acting as an agent for Angelica and her husband.

I read the biography that inspired the musical, and I do think that the latter presents Hamilton's support for abolition as far less equivocal than it was.
posted by thelonius at 1:37 PM on November 12, 2016


a play that does not acknowledge that the ancestors of these same actors were excluded from the freedoms for which the founders fought

but that's the whole point of the casting choices, which do count as part of the play. they really could not acknowledge that fact any harder if they tried, and they are trying. and succeeding. and this isn't a play that exists independently of its casting, by design, in the popular imagination and in productions of any note for a good long while.

it is a good point that casting actors of color made it possible to avoid writing characters of color and also avoid being taken to task for it right away. but the casting is an integral part of the show, and the casting makes no sense outside the context she says is unacknowledged. the show doesn't just acknowledge that history, it relies on it for the whole thing to make any sense at all as a statement and not just a random creative touch. Everybody understands it's not randomly done in Hamilton. I don't think much of the show and I don't think much of having to listen to it in coffee shops, but "the ancestors of these same actors [having been] excluded from the freedoms [...]" is universally understood to be a point made by the play.

as for historical accuracy, I am maybe being too generous to a show I don't even like, but I thought that, too was the point, or a point. that point being that history equaling the personal myth-making of Great Men (who must be played by men! and written for male voices so as to make cross-gender casting as difficult as possible! for Reasons!) - means that casting for fidelity to the historical demographics of the human namesakes of the myths is entirely beside the point; if history is just good stories and strong personalities, and if being psychologically compelling is more important than being comprehensive and inclusive -- as is the general assumption behind the Founding Fathers story-type of history lots of schoolkids were taught for decades and decades -- then they are not really stories about white men at all, and there is no reason to re-enact them for the stage with white men in the starring roles.

that is: it's not a guileless boosting of that kind of history; it's a critique of that kind of history carried out by engaging with it in good earnest and pretending it's valid. Focusing on the famous white people as the main characters is part and parcel of that kind of history. Critics who want to make sure everybody understands that it's NOT valid, actually, aren't wrong at all, but I had thought that Hamilton fans and creators alike already understood that to be the case and took it as a point of departure, not a conclusion they had to struggle towards.

but that all said, it never hurts to hammer on a few facts of history that not as many people know as should.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:38 PM on November 12, 2016 [50 favorites]


Hamilton criticism is sort of ridiculous. Lin did not set out to fix everything wrong with race in America. He told a story the best way he knows how.

You realize that this line gets trotted out in response to any kind of anti-racist criticism of any kind of media, right? If anti-racist critique of a work was only allowed if the work "set out to fix everything wrong with race", there would be no anti-racist critique.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 1:38 PM on November 12, 2016 [48 favorites]


Respectfully, roomthreeseventeen, that exact reasoning can be applied to literally any work of art that is criticized for its issues with diversity.

Plus, the musical is explicitly being sold on and celebrated for its antiracism.
posted by perplexion at 1:39 PM on November 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


You realize that this line gets trotted out in response to any kind of anti-racist criticism of any kind of media, right?

Yes, I realize that. I also know that many of the people criticizing Hamilton are historians who have no idea how to write a musical or tell a story on stage. I'm not saying at all that historians shouldn't point to the actual history. I'm saying that calling Lin's storytelling out, and the way he chose to cast and write his version of Alexander Hamilton's story, is offensive to me as someone who works in musical theatre.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:48 PM on November 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


Gee, what a bunch of sourpusses. As a 50 year old Asian-American, I love the soundtrack, have quoted Hamilton IRL, and read Ron Chernow's book. Hamilton the musical has given actors of color exposure and employment. It revived my interest in early American history and politics. It gave me a way in to rap that I never had before. And now I've been introduced to fellow liberal Lin-Manuel Miranda's sprightly optimism and encouragement.

It's easy to criticize -- what have you created that is better? or failing that, exactly what would you change about Hamilton to make it better?
posted by olopua at 1:53 PM on November 12, 2016 [23 favorites]


I also know that many of the people criticizing Hamilton are historians who have no idea how to write a musical or tell a story on stage.

Well, that's why they're telling Miranda what he should have done, not proposing to do it themselves.

I don't think it's at the same level and certainly it's on a different level of art, but finding out some little bit about Gertrude Bell and realizing there were great holes in Lawrence of Arabia I knew nothing about -- that the reason there were no women in the film (and not just her missing, either) wasn't actually because there were no women around at the time -- was an important and unhappy occasion for me.

on the other hand I love Amadeus to death and it doesn't bother me at all that it's as full of lies about Mozart's personality as it is about Salieri. except when people make it clear they don't know this, and then it does.

just off the cuff examples but the difference between the two kinds of lies for art's sake is clear, I hope. there's no art so great omissions of a certain type must be forgiven. if Hamilton seems more like Type A than Type B to historians, I think they are right to say so. though they may be mistaken.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:56 PM on November 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


There's a lot that's problematic in Hamilton (which I love obsessively), and it's a relief to hear some of it called out. But Lyra Monteiro's interest in Hamilton seems, uh, less than obsessive.

The play also makes impressive use of actual historical documents, many of which are set to music during the play. For example, Samuel Seabury’s ‘‘Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress,’'

Yeah, no. Pretty sure Lin-Manuel Miranda said his lyrics have nothing to do with the actual historical document.
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:03 PM on November 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


>I also know that many of the people criticizing Hamilton are historians who have no idea how to write a musical or tell a story on stage.

>It's easy to criticize -- what have you created that is better? or failing that, exactly what would you change about Hamilton to make it better?


I know that making a work of art is difficult. Believe me, I know. But the idea that as a result only people who have made works as good or better are allowed the "right" to criticize seems... strange, to me at least.

Running a major country is probably the most difficult task in the world to do. So am I not allowed to criticize Obama or Bush for the way they've done it until I've done the same thing? I don't know that much about the financial system and wouldn't be able to tell you what exactly we should do to fix the banks. So am I not allowed to say that I don't think the current system is working?

People have issues with Hamilton. Maybe they're fixable, maybe they're not. I don't see how pointing out those issues is "offensive".
posted by perplexion at 2:03 PM on November 12, 2016 [30 favorites]


The fact Miranda casts and employs and empowers and has launched the post-Hamilton careers of so many actors and singers and dancers who are people of color is noteworthy, sure... the production also has very liberal artist-royalty structures, apparently.

But production-related is not really story-related, and it's not a story about racism. It's a story about ambition and legacy. So I don't really understand complaints about racism being underaddressed in the story. Compared to what? Compared to stories about racism? Um, yes.

(Me, my most serious issue with Hamilton is about WTF the difference between outmanned and outnumbered is.)
posted by rokusan at 2:12 PM on November 12, 2016 [24 favorites]


But production-related is not really story-related, and it's not a story about racism. It's a story about ambition and legacy. So I don't really understand complaints about racism being underaddressed in the story. Compared to what? Compared to stories about racism? Um, yes.

Thanks for making this point better than I could. The story that he's telling here incorporates race as a comment on the storytelling, which is largely not.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:18 PM on November 12, 2016


Ok. play a failure. If you have tickets, I will buy them for 50 bucks each.
posted by Postroad at 2:23 PM on November 12, 2016 [41 favorites]


Outmanned, while it can be used to mean outnumbered, can also mean "exceeded in power or skill". I would argue that verse is saying that the American forces had fewer supplies and weapons (outgunned), less well trained soldiers (outmanned), and fewer troops (outnumbered).
posted by Caduceus at 2:28 PM on November 12, 2016 [11 favorites]


It's easy to criticize -- what have you created that is better?

this is about as important and useful as people who look at modern art and say "my kid could paint that". which is to say, it's facile and ridiculous. one doesn't have to be the foremost artist of one's day in order to experience, discuss, appreciate, either critically or uncritically, a piece of art. the assertion that one needs to themselves be an artist in order to interact with a work of art or their opinion is worthless is appallingly othering. art is for everyone, and if someone doesn't like a thing that you like, that doesn't make them less than you.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:31 PM on November 12, 2016 [43 favorites]


(This will be my last post in this thread, I promise.)

But production-related is not really story-related, and it's not a story about racism. It's a story about ambition and legacy. So I don't really understand complaints about racism being underaddressed in the story. Compared to what? Compared to stories about racism? Um, yes.

Here's a question: should only stories "about women" be expected to pass the Bechdel test?

Imagine if Hamilton had cast members with the same race as the characters they're portraying. Would you still find the criticism that there are no characters of color with an actual line in the story, despite their presence in history, overblown? This is essentially the PoC equivalent of the Bechdel test. Hell, it's actually a much lower bar than the Bechdel test. It's like asking: "Is there a single woman in this story who has a single line?"

You may find the fact that the cast members are PoC an adequate corrective for that. I, personally, do not, and I don't think I'm unreasonable for thinking that.

I do not expect Hamilton to be a seminar on the Black experience. But I do expect a musical that, again, is being sold as and has a reputation for being progressive on race issues to clear the lowest possible bar.
posted by perplexion at 2:34 PM on November 12, 2016 [18 favorites]


Ishmael Reed asks,‘‘Can you imagine Jewish actors in Berlin’s theaters taking roles of Goering? Goebbels? Eichmann? Hitler?’’

Yes. Yes I can. Not in a celebratory way, of course. But a celebration of those figures is unthinkable in ways that a celebration of Alexander Hamilton is not.

For whatever it's worth, a high proportion of the cast of Hogan's Heroes (a sitcom set in a German prisoner-of-war camp) had close biographical or familial connections to the Holocaust. Held in concentration camps, had family killed there, etc. The actor who plays the cuddly, lovable Sergeant Schultz had family killed at Treblinka.
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:36 PM on November 12, 2016 [20 favorites]


There's a lot you can criticize Hamilton about, from the bootstrap narrative to being too hagiographic of Washington.

(That Current Affairs article is absolute trash though.)
posted by kmz at 2:37 PM on November 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


WTF the difference between outmanned and outnumbered is.
Washington's troops were easily unmanned, right? So ... if the British troops were less easily unmanned ...
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:41 PM on November 12, 2016


I believe there's a nuance there. Outmanned is military code for masculinity and strength. It may also be a reference to British music, which would not surprise me, with the "always outnumbered, never outgunned."
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:45 PM on November 12, 2016


I also know that many of the people criticizing Hamilton are historians who have no idea how to write a musical or tell a story on stage.

There are A LOT of critiques of Hamilton from within the musical theater community, too. And those people will be the first people to tell you that they, like the interviewee in this piece, have tremendous respectful for Hamilton as a theatrical production. Doesn't mean that it's not worth critically engaging with. And sometimes a good way to start dialogue about issues in society is by using an extremely popular piece of media as an example. Hamilton has issues of non-engagement/erasure of racism and sexism, and pointing that out does not somehow erase the tremendous accomplishments of Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Interesting interview, thanks for posting.
posted by likeatoaster at 2:54 PM on November 12, 2016 [9 favorites]


Outmanned is military code for masculinity and strength.

Yeah, one of Hamilton's must problematic aspects is its positioning of its protagonist and his friends as correct by virtue of their manliness, with the most fey male in the show prissily urging nonviolence; Hamilton's response, urging war, is without much logic or reasoning, just bluster; the show expects us, the audience, to side with the confident hawk rather than the silly effeminate American urging peace.
posted by Greg Nog at 3:04 PM on November 12, 2016 [15 favorites]


[One comment deleted. This is WAY not going to become an election thread.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:08 PM on November 12, 2016 [21 favorites]


I love Hamilton. I'm also happy to see criticism because I wasn't the next generation of musicals to be even better than this.
posted by Sequence at 3:24 PM on November 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


"...all of the main characters are being played by people of color, but there are no historical people of color represented."

Except, arguably, for Alexander Hamilton.

There's more than one nod to this in the play, e.g. when Burr says Adams called Hamilton a 'creole bastard'. In his own lifetime, Hamilton's white identity seems to have been not unproblematically fixed. John Sedgwick says Hamilton's political enemies often called him things like mustee. The play frequently frames Hamilton as an 'immigrant' from 'a forgotten spot in the Caribbean', etc., in ways that ring bells both then and now.
posted by feral_goldfish at 3:42 PM on November 12, 2016 [15 favorites]


a play that does not acknowledge that the ancestors of these same actors were excluded from the freedoms for which the founders fought.

It does so explicitly in the text as well as in the obvious intentional casting. Hamilton distinctly points out that Jefferson for all his high-minded ideals and insistence that he and his fellow Virginians "create wealth", is a slaver. There are also a couple of references in "Yorktown" (including Washington specifically denying that black soldiers would be free).
posted by Etrigan at 3:48 PM on November 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm sure this piece has a perfectly good point (I'm not familiar enough with Hamilton to get anything out of reading it), but I knew without even hovering over the link that it would be in Slate.
posted by tobascodagama at 3:48 PM on November 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


As perplexion said, "making a work of art is difficult". Hamilton is a towering, magnificent work that exposed so many to musical theater, helped us find a new point of connection with the founding fathers, and revitalized our interest in the beginnings of American politics. Compared to that achievement, I think the criticisms have been niggling.

An Eckhart Tolle quote I like to ponder: "If her past were your past, her pain your pain, her level of consciousness your level of consciousness, you would think and act exactly as she does. With this realization comes forgiveness, compassion, peace." Hamilton is all about human greatness, failure, and compassion.
posted by olopua at 3:50 PM on November 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


(Not editing to say: I think Hamilton is great, both the musical and the phenomenon. I don't think either of those things is perfect, either, nor do I think they need to or were intended to be. Criticism is perfectly valid and is done best when it makes us think rather than just saying "This rules"/"This sucks".)
posted by Etrigan at 3:55 PM on November 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


There were, of course, indigenous people who weren't even acknowledged in the show. So there's that as well.

My personal way to get around issues like this is to engage with the text as a work of fiction. That's not really ideal as it is a work of historical fiction ("Inspired by actual events!"), but it's my personal workaround.

The article absolutely makes a valid point about the show. And it should be called out more often.

That said, I fucking loved the show when we saw it.
posted by stet at 4:29 PM on November 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Want. Not wasn't. That's what I get for responding on my phone. (Still getting settled after spending the day moving, only just have my laptop set up again.)

Compared to that achievement, I think the criticisms have been niggling.

I think, though, that this is okay? Like--the better something is, the fewer big criticisms there are going to be, but that doesn't mean that the greatest in the field should stop trying to be any better than they already are. It's possible that Lin-Manuel Miranda might not have been able to integrate all or even some of the things people point out without it making Hamilton less than what it is--but that doesn't mean the next person won't be able to do even more, and won't be led to think about doing even more by thinking about what Hamilton could have done better.

I think that there are problems with callout culture generally in terms of treating everything like "could be better" is the same thing as "terrible". But the points themselves are often valid and, I think, genuinely useful for future creators to be thinking about. I think a lot of this generation's diverse media comes from people having made what seemed like "niggling" criticisms about great but not-very-diverse media of 20+ years ago.
posted by Sequence at 4:33 PM on November 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


JEFFERSON:
There’s a letter on my desk from the President
Haven’t even put my bags down yet
Sally, be a lamb, darlin’, won’tcha open it?


People of color are obviously not foregrounded as characters; the presence of the actors playing the white characters is a visible reminder of absence or invisibility of others, which is weird but maybe effective at doing something. But there are also these occasional little digs like the one above that speak volumes.

It all kind of follows from Miranda's initial artistic choices: to adapt the non-fiction biography of Alexander Hamilton for the stage in a fairly literal way (plotwise). It's the story of him and his family and friends and adversaries, so it was never going to include a diverse set of characters, the women were going to be portrayed primarily in terms of who they were in Hamilton's life as love interests, etc. etc. (although there's some mild anachronistic Girl Power and feminist stuff thrown in). So it's really the initial artistic choices that probably need to be interrogated here.

I mean, if the goal is to make American history relatable to modern audiences who feel marginalized by a narrative that's conventionally presented as by, about, and for white guys, then there are various ways to do that. Miranda went with "point out the parallels between these dead white guys and contemporary multi-cultural young people and hire actors of color to play them." Other people go with "tell stories about historical people of color and how they participated in American history and/or experienced life in these time periods." But you're not going to have a 600-page thoroughly researched and documented biography to work from as source material in that case, which means you'll have to work harder to create the thing.

But I'm not sure "make American history relatable" was necessarily the goal (it just became the sales pitch or the effect of the enterprise). From Lin-Manuel's account, the impulse seems to have been, "Wow, how interesting that a 2000s Puerto Rican guy like me feels such a kinship with this frilly shirted starchy looking Revolutionary figure. How interesting that these white guys from 200+ years ago seem to be so much like brash hip-hop characters."

Also, Hamilton himself isn't portrayed as much of an abolitionist in the play; that's Laurens's gig. Ham's slam of Jefferson is more a way to advance his own argument than a high-minded moral critique.

[I love Hamilton, btw,]
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:56 PM on November 12, 2016 [20 favorites]


But it's an intentional removal of minority actors. Given the time period, they would have been in roles experiencing oppression. The casting was created to give minorities all positions of power, and the inclusion of oppressed voices would have lessened that effect. Especially since there is the tricky business of how to represent slavery without falling into the tragedy porn that does restrict actors opportunities.

Additionally, the Schuyler Sisters is a song that tries to pass the Bechdel test. And it fails because of the time period. They want to experience the revolution. They want a night without men. And instead Burr tries to turn it into a pick-up opportunity, and they are relegated to watching the men do the actual work.

The second act is this fascinating mix of how difficult liberalism is. Hamilton loses his righteousness and compromises all over the place. He gets upset about Burr beating his wife's father, which you don't even have to know specific politics, to see that it's more about his ability to pass in his society as a part of the ruling class and be accepted despite his immigrant status. I'm not sure how much more explicit you could be about Hamilton's transgressions without turning into the Republican trope of minorities being just as bad white people, so let's forgive white people their transgressions.
posted by politikitty at 5:11 PM on November 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


The part that really sticks out to me along these lines is omitting Hercules Mulligan's slave, Cato, who was part and parcel of his spying activity. Mulligan is lumped in with the "revolutionary manumission abolitionists" and presented as doing his job alone and Laurens is all good with him. I think Cato would have been a great addition to address these issues, by tying that directly to a personal story and not a background issue.
posted by jason_steakums at 5:14 PM on November 12, 2016 [15 favorites]


And for real you could have just swapped out "The Story of Tonight" with a Cato song, I always skip that one and it shows up twice.
posted by jason_steakums at 5:15 PM on November 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


Wow, from reading this site prior, I'd have thought Hamilton criticism was impossible.

I'm just bracing for the inevitable think piece next year about how the soundtrack is actually the best hip hop album ever, full of charts and graphs and syllable counts per bar and what have you.
posted by lkc at 5:44 PM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


art is for everyone

Prolly the most racist thing about Hamilton is that it costs like, a grand to see
posted by todayandtomorrow at 6:46 PM on November 12, 2016 [12 favorites]


"That bastard brat of a Scottish peddler! His ambition, his restlessness and all his grandiose schemes come, I'm convinced, from a superabundance of secretions, which he couldn't find enough whores to absorb!"

-John Adams.
[mashup fake]

"...it will be the Old Age of this Government if it is thus early decrepid! Such Citizen is the Evident consequence of the system of Finances conceived by Mr. Hamilton. He has made of a whole Nation a Stockjobbing, Speculating, selfish People. Riches alone here see consideration; and as no one likes to be despized they are universally sought after. Nevertheless this depravity has not yet embraced the Mob of the People, &c."

-John Adams to Abagail Adams, Dec. 1795.
posted by clavdivs at 7:02 PM on November 12, 2016


Prolly the most racist thing about Hamilton is that it costs like, a grand to see

I think Miranda is fairly conscious about the limited availability of the theatre experience as well as the prohibitive costs, and things like the lottery selling cheap tickets, doing Ham4Ham sketches, and bringing high school students to the show, are attempts to counter this prohibitive nature. Small attempts, sure. And the show will eventually be played by high schools and become more available. It's the unfortunate nature of certain forms of art that some are more limited in their availability.

I consider myself a fan of Hamilton, but I've never seen it. The cast recording made me a fan, and even converted me to listening to other musicals too. I think there are a lot of younger fans online who've gone through a similar experience. Other people in the business of writing and producing musicals should look at Hamilton as an example of how a musical can build an online following, making their work more available and engaging to others, those to whom Broadway is not accessible.
posted by airish at 7:11 PM on November 12, 2016 [8 favorites]


Other people in the business of writing and producing musicals should look at Hamilton as an example of how a musical can build an online following, making their work more available and engaging to others, those to whom Broadway is not accessible.

The Ham4Ham and such is a direct descendent of the RENT line, which I'm sure was part of the inspiration. As a 90s teenager who could only afford the $20 for a Broadway ticket, that line was a godsend.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:14 PM on November 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


mild anachronistic Girl Power and feminist stuff

Less anachronistic than you think; Aaron Burr's mother and his wife were both ardent feminists, as was Abigail Adams and (I believe) Angelica Schuyler, although I don't think feminist was in the vocabulary at that point. Abigail Adams was a straight up nasty woman. That's just from memory; there were other feminist voices of the time. And I've read that some states allowed some women to vote, just as they allowed free black people to vote, up until (I think) the Constitution was ratified.


Most of the critiques of Hamilton seem like just fandom-bashing i-don't-like-the-thing, like that Current Affairs article, and it's fucking asinine to focus on how few expensive it is to see the play itself when the fandom is driven by the free streaming album

to me the most convincing critique of Hamilton is that my black friends, who at least appreciate hip-hop, don't like it. Which is just anecdata but it does give me pause.

I'd definitely believe that color-washing a white narrative is ... just not enough. If you compare it to a narrative like Luke Cage (the blackest thing I've personally seen my whole damn life, tho I haven't watched Empire or Atlanta yet) the insufficiency becomes obvious.

I do think it's entirely sufficient for what it is, which is ultra-inclusive nerdcore.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 8:35 PM on November 12, 2016 [10 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. If you just want to say that you hate Hamilton or seeing people talk about Hamilton, please pass this thread by.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:37 PM on November 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


In the light of the last week, I would kill for a badass Abigail Adams pop culture moment. That lady deserves a lot of recognition and respect for what she brought.
posted by drewbage1847 at 9:36 PM on November 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


Prolly the most racist thing about Hamilton is that it costs like, a grand to see

Prices peaked during Miranda's last couple of weeks (guess when I finally got around to going, sigh) but are now much more manageable, especially weekdays and matinees.

Heck, the new Chicago run is much, much less expensive, and when the touring starts it'll be even more accessible.

I expect to see it a few more times with slightly-less-amazing casts but also at ever-diminishing costs. I'm reducing my dollar cost average or something.
posted by rokusan at 10:38 PM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


And the show will eventually be played by high schools and become more available.

But how many of those high school productions will feature all-white casts?

Granted, there are a lot of dubious casting choices made out of necessity in high school productions and they don't always deserve the same criticism as a professional or semi-professional production (or anything where they have more than about 20 kids to cast from), but if the way to counter "there are no characters of color" is going to be "well, the cast is full of people of color", you have to believe that will continue to be the case for productions going forward and that groups that are 99% white won't be doing the show not seeing any problem with that. Maybe I'm cynical, but I'd anticipate plenty of all-white productions.
posted by hoyland at 6:36 AM on November 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Imagine if Miranda had written in the character of James Armistead Lafayette, a black slave/spy. Who would have played this character, a black actor or a non-black actor? Either choice might've been problematic, for different reasons. Particularly, I think a white man cast as a black slave would've led to a shitstorm of controversy. On the other hand, a black man taking the role would have given ammunition to complaints like, "How come you people get to take our roles but we don't get to take yours?" It seems like a no-win proposition, one which might've detracted from the primary subversions Miranda chose to engage in. Absolutely there are absolutely additional vectors where the canon can be criticized, which he omitted either by design or ignorance. But I just disagree, I guess, that in not taking up those targets, it means his efforts are flawed.

to me the most convincing critique of Hamilton is that my black friends, who at least appreciate hip-hop, don't like it.

(Rainbo, just wanna respond from a totally friendly, black pov that my tastes are no more authentic than anyone else's. If you yourself don't like the play that's perfectly fine. If you don't like it because someone convinces you of issues, that's reasonable. And I may be misreading the gist of your remark, but don't not like it because your black friends think it's corny, cause (if that's what it is) that just sounds Whig-idy wack, sib.

One of the things about many great hip-hop artists (as opposed to many fans) is that their musical tastes are wide-ranging and idiosyncratic. The fact that they don't limit themselves to appreciating just what their peers like is often what elevates them beyond mere proficiency to greatness. So "lots of my friends [don't] like" might be personally persuasive, but to me falls short of a convincing critique.)
posted by xigxag at 8:10 AM on November 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


But how many of those high school productions will feature all-white casts?

Miranda has said (wish I could find it) that he imagines school casting will include a lot of women in roles played professionally by men
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:35 AM on November 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Oh for real, I get that, I like the thing. I mean it makes me pause when thinking about the racial politics of the thing - the other main category of Hamilton criticism. I'm not going to uncritically stan for it. I think about that sort of thing a lot, but as a white person, my opinion on the racial politics of it doesn't carry much weight, if any, and I'm not personally going to defend it on that axis. And I'm definitely not going to fansplain to my black friends why they should like it (which I do sometimes for other things, i'm annoying like that).
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 8:38 AM on November 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


it would have given ammunition to complaints like, "How come you people get to take our roles but we don't get to take yours?" It seems like a no-win proposition

It's only a no-win proposition if you think those complaints would be just as valid.

Criticism doesn't automatically mean you did something wrong. People can criticise for all sorts of reasons, and sometimes their criticisms will even be mutually exclusive. Not all of those criticisms should be given equal weight. Sometimes they are even the reflection of cluelessness or bigotry.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:01 AM on November 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Imagine if Miranda had written in the character of James Armistead Lafayette, a black slave/spy. Who would have played this character, a black actor or a non-black actor? Either choice might've been problematic, for different reasons.

There's an additional reason it would be problematic to include an enslaved character: it would create contrast. And that would make it harder to read the founding fathers in the intentionally critically transcendent, transcendently critical way that queenofbithynia vividly lays out.

(Of course, the chorus does play enslaved black people, not only at Monticello, but also at Mt. Vernon: note the echo when the chorus sings 'George Washington's going home.' And I imagine they move and dance as "black and white soldiers alike" who "wonder if this really means freedom".)

When I was a kid reading The Lord of the Rings, it was easy to identify with the male characters, because there were no significant female characters to raise questions of inclusion. When seductress Galadriel and misguided, self-hating Eowyn showed up, it got harder. In the same way, I personally wish Ewig-Weibliche Eliza Schuyler had been minimized, and that intellectual-manquée Angelica had either been left out altogether, or given a romantic mythology that was less feminized.

(Yeah, sure, Angelica had an emotional affair or whatever with Alexander; but she was already married (to a bankrupt who made his money after their marriage) when she met Alexander and handed him over to Eliza, so that whole sacrifice (supposing there was anything to sacrifice, and that she did in fact sacrifice it) would have been played out in a much less virginal, more socially transgressive context. More crucially, if we were doing a heroic inclusion of Angelica, I'd like to see Hamilton, Lafayette, Jefferson, and Washington engaging with and responding to points raised in their political correspondence with her.)

For me (non-POC), the character Hercules Mulligan has always felt like a fusion of the real-life Cato with the real-life Mulligan, both "spying on the British government". It may have been Mulligan who would "take their measurements, information", but I don't know whether it was ever him who would "then smuggle it". It was Cato who did a lot of the smuggling, because as a slave he was unsuspected, which is emblematic of Mulligan's mystique in the play.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:33 AM on November 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Okay! One more thing --

People have been saying Monteiro's critique seems not-so-well applied to musical theater. Maybe that's because it's transferred from a different medium: living history/cultural heritage museums.

Monteiro's bio, at the end of her article, says "she has published on issues in cultural heritage and archaeological ethics and is the co-director of the public humanities organization The Museum On Site," and the second work her article cites is Richard Handler and Eric Gable's 1997 The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg. In it, Handler and Gable critique a failure of imagination when portraying African American history: archaeologists will say, y'know, we'd like to, but there's very little material culture left with which to tell the story. Handler and Gable point out such archaeologists fail to realize how much material culture at Williamsburg IS African American: who handled that tea service more often? Whose story is it really part of?

Which fits what I felt was her most striking point: was there really no one else, when "No One Else Was In The Room"?
posted by feral_goldfish at 12:27 PM on November 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yeah, honestly I think it's the Cato disappearance that really gives me pause. The play also gives Hamilton (the man) a pass on slavery that the book doesn't -- the book shows him as against slavery in theory but not above participating in the institution pretty directly.

(There's also a case to be made for the show making hip hop palateable for white people of all ages who are otherwise totally not engaged with hip hop at all, save its influence on the blandest and most unavoidable current pop.)

Finally, it is really frustrating to read vaguely historical critiques of the show by people who clearly haven't read the book. There was one within the past year all about how it seemed like Aaron Burr wasn't all that bad, and it's like welllllll the source material for the art you're criticizing indicates that he was actually much bigger of a dick, but the article never mentions it (citing instead some very thin online sources, and historical record around the duel itself.) He may not be a murderer, but the historical record is clear: huge jerkoff.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:07 PM on November 13, 2016


Ack, my phrasing implied above that I thought "making hip hop palateable" was bad and I don't think that at all. I'm hoping the Mixtape will lead more fans into exploring further.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:09 PM on November 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Miranda has said (wish I could find it) that he imagines school casting will include a lot of women in roles played professionally by men

I say again: only weeks left until Lin-Manuel Miranda's Drunk History episode, featuring Alia Shawkat as Hamilton and Aubrey Plaza as Burr.
posted by rokusan at 2:29 PM on November 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Prolly the most racist thing about Hamilton is that it costs like, a grand to see.

But you can get the soundtrack streaming for free, which is more than I got for Les Miz back when I was obsessed with that. I think that has really contributed to its popularity.
posted by greermahoney at 4:15 PM on November 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


Hamilton is not the story of the revolution and everyone who took part in it. It's a specific story of Alexander Hamilton's ambition and achievements and downfall(s). There are only a handful of characters in the show, and every one was included because of their relationships to Hamilton. As far as I can tell, there is no reason to believe that he had a significant relationship with Cato, or William Lee, or James Armistead Lafayette, or black revolutionary soldiers, or any other people of color. Tacking them on would have been forced and weird and political and somewhat dishonest. Hamilton definitely had a mixed history with regard to slavery, but it wasn't especially relevant to the story Miranda needed to tell. There are other stories to be told about slavery and people of color in the revolution, and I'd love to see them, but this wasn't that story.
posted by Dojie at 5:39 AM on November 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


Hamilton is not the story of the revolution

How does a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower
somehow defeat a global superpower?

There are only a handful of characters in the show, and every one was included because of their relationships to Hamilton.

Remember, despite our estrangement, I'm your man.

there is no reason to believe that he had a significant relationship with ... people of color.


[HAMILTON/LAURENS]
We'll never be free until we end slavery!

forced and weird and political

I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:28 PM on November 14, 2016


Not sure how that refutes Dojie's point, feral.

..

My wife wondered, last night over dinner, when the Lin-Manuel backlash would arrive, and here it is, right on schedule.

It is predictably tired and empty, but backlash often is.

I realize it's not part of the post, but the "you should be terrified" piece from Current Affairs linked uptopic is just as laughably off base now as it was in July. Reading it, one gets the idea the author is aware Hamilton is a thing that exists, but has very little actual direct experience with the work. It's a "contrarian hot take" in the worst sense.

Slavery is an explicit part of the plot. To have missed it so completely, as the CA writer did, is to be extraordinarily lazy.
posted by uberchet at 7:49 AM on November 15, 2016


Agreed: if anyone ever wants to know what a 'contrarian hot take' is and why it might be bad, the Current Affairs piece should be Exhibit A.

Depends what you mean by 'Dojie's point'. If it's: "Hamilton is a marvelous thing in its own terms," that's nothing I want to refute. Like I said: the queenofbithynia take is dead-on (ok she dislikes Hamilton, but no doubt that her right to do so got enshrined in the Constitution somewhere) and illuminates why we can't understand Hamilton as independent of its medium (and therefore why we can't just transfer critiques of other media).

But. Hamilton is, in its own terms, larger than what Dojie describes.

Of course Hamilton isn't just the story of this one guy's career. 'The Battle of Yorktown' celebrates Alexander Hamilton's friends, but it isn't framed as hey, and then this thing happened that made Alexander Hamilton successful!. It's framed as the United States won its battle for independence, and that turned the world upside-down. George III didn't have a special relationship with Alexander Hamilton; he had a special relationship with the thirteen colonies. People of color and people in slavery had a massive constitutive role in this whole situation -- I mean, that's an absurd understatement, really. When you say 'We'll never be free until we end slavery,' you're treating slavery as fundamental to your own status, whether or not you're 'free' in that technical, legal sense, and that's what LMM's character did, right there. And when LMM did it, it wasn't 'forced and weird and political and somewhat dishonest.' When LMM wants to show us something 'forced and weird and political and somewhat dishonest', he shows us George III singing about this submissive relationship whose compelled nature is creepily downplayed. So the colonists rebel, to become free ... except, we're not yet: I mean, that's right there, in the text ... and are we really free right now, or is there more work to be done, particularly with respect to the position of immigrants, people of color, and New York as a transformative melting pot? That question gets raised performatively.

Something can be marvelous in its own terms, and yet still have further potential. Defending Lin-Manuel Miranda shouldn't have to mean minimizing his achievements.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:49 AM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


George III singing about this submissive relationship whose compelled nature is creepily downplayed.

I paused after the first George III song and asked my 11-year-old daughter, "You know what that song is about, right?"
"Abusive relationships?"

I don't know how downplayed it is.
posted by Etrigan at 11:53 AM on November 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Oh! Right. I meant downplayed by George III, in his own mind. 'Creepily romanticized' would maybe be a better way of putting it.

And yay for your 11-year-old daughter!
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:59 AM on November 15, 2016


Art is a reflection of our times and our society. And I think future generations will be able to make these critiques legitimately. But being made now, in concert with "I don't like it", sounds a lot more like tearing down progress than trying to improve on it.

It's radical that this stays a patriotic show without letting us forget for a moment the marginalized voices that made this country possible. And it's radical to see minority actors only play characters of immense privilege.

That watching Hamilton, a black kid is set up to identify with the first President of the United States, rather than the nameless voice in the chorus, which would have been his reality in that time period. And every white kid is going to be painfully aware that Jefferson couldn't have been black, because if he was, he would have never been able to hold a position of power.

You can't create that dynamic if you give those marginalized voices a name and a face. We would name those voices, and we should see their reality. But you can't do both in this America. Doing both allows the audience to recognize where the marginalized belonged in America. And continue to normalize that implicit bias a marginalized person must be extraordinary to deserve a seat at the table. Especially since Hamilton is that marginalized immigrant who worked 100x as hard to get that seat. It would have shown that Cato did his part, but that if he had just tried a little bit harder, maybe he would have gotten the treatment that Hamilton received.

This play is written by the child of immigrants. It's written for white people. It says "We still love America, despite all the harm that America has done to us. We have always been here. Please let us be seen, without assuming we are unpatriotic and trying to destroy your society."

We should be annoyed that is a radical thing in America. But that is a criticism of American society, through Hamilton. And it should be stated as such. Instead it's "this is why I choose not to like the thing". And that's cheap when virtually all media is problematic in some way.
posted by politikitty at 2:17 PM on November 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


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