95ºF

‘Hamilton’ and race: ‘A very powerful statement without having to be a statement’

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of 'Hamilton' perform onstage during the 70th Annual Tony Awards in June 2016.
Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of 'Hamilton' perform onstage during the 70th Annual Tony Awards in June 2016. (2016 Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

There’s no better way to celebrate America’s birthday than with some American history -- and what perfect timing: “Hamilton” is now available on Disney+.

The Broadway show was a smash hit, and became one of the most popular musicals of all time. “Hamilton” broke multiple records for its cast recording, and earned record-breaking sales of $32 million before it even hit Broadway, according to Time magazine.

It’s hard to exaggerate the show’s success.

If you’re unfamiliar with the play, or you’re not sure why you should tune in at all, you’ll want to start by reading this: What you need to know before streaming ‘Hamilton’ on Disney+ over the weekend

Consider that “Hamilton” truly broke ground when it came to diversity, and how the show handled race.

To be frank, the Founding Fathers were white. Some of them owned black slaves. Directors and show organizers could have just followed suit and went with an all-white cast.

But consider the subject matter. It’s not just a dry, average historical-type show. “Hamilton” uses rap and hip-hop to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton’s rise to power as the American Revolution unfolded.

“If it had been an all-white cast, wouldn’t you think I messed up?” creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda is quoted as saying in a Broadway News article.

Many of the major players in the show are actors of color; either black or biracial.

“This is a story about America then, told by America now, and we want to eliminate any distance. Our story should look the way our country looks. Then we found the best people to embody these parts. I think it’s a very powerful statement without having to be a statement,” Miranda told the New York Times.

Okieriete Onaodowan and the cast of "Hamilton" perform onstage.
Okieriete Onaodowan and the cast of "Hamilton" perform onstage. (2016 Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

Miranda is familiar with racial dynamics when it comes to the world of theater.

He was born in New York, but his family is from Puerto Rico and Mexico. At some point, Miranda started writing his own work just to carve out a lane for himself.

“I was in college, and I realized I didn’t dance well enough to play Paul in ‘A Chorus Line’ nor Bernardo, and if you’re a Puerto Rican dude, that’s what you get,” Miranda said. “So I began writing ‘In the Heights’ because I wanted a life in this business.”

But back to “Hamilton.”

The show debuted in 2015, which is relatively recent, but now perhaps more relevant than ever when you consider the diverse casting and the messaging. The show touches on themes of immigrants -- after all, Hamilton himself was an immigrant from the Caribbean who became George Washington’s right-hand man -- and our country’s past and foundation.

In 2020, race remains at the forefront of many discussions these days, as the past month or so has brought protests and unrest following the deaths of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery. Statues across the country, many of them Confederate in nature, are coming down, and companies and groups are even pledging to do better when it comes to inclusion and racial equity.

Perhaps “Hamilton” was ahead of its time.

Again, the casting of the show was no accident. The website Hypable had a good take on it, saying: “Lin-Manuel Miranda is rewriting the Founding Father narrative to purposefully reflect the kind of country we live in today. Choosing to cast the founders of our country as people of color may not be ‘historically’ accurate, but it is culturally accurate as a reflection of a 21st century nation built by immigrants. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s version of history suddenly becomes an inclusive one, inviting every American to see his or herself reflected in the story of the Founding Fathers.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda in his final performance as Alexander Hamilton on Broadway at The Richard Rogers Theatre in New York City.
Lin-Manuel Miranda in his final performance as Alexander Hamilton on Broadway at The Richard Rogers Theatre in New York City. (2016 Getty Images/FilmMagic)

Has the show piqued your interest yet? It’s now available to Disney+ subscribers, just one day before the Fourth of July.

The Huffington Post wrote about the show, as well, and what it can teach Hollywood about diversity. We’ll leave you with one last bit of analysis: “At its heart, ‘Hamilton’ is a white story told effectively and entertainingly by people of color. It’s hugely appealing to Broadway audiences — a group that, according to the Broadway League, is 80 percent white. It seems there’s a lesson there for the entertainment industry at large: Actors of color aren’t a liability.”


About the Author: