Since everyone is raving about Hamilton, I have some questions
Before I get to the questions, I'll concede some points:
- The writing is excellent -- in the context of lyrics and individual moments.
- The music is excellent.
- The performances (within the Disney+ copy) are fantastic.
Question #1: why do you like this play so fervently? Is it because it's a perfect poppy blend of rap, hip hop, r&b, soul, and Broadway musicals?
Question #2: if you do like this production, how do you square the main theme of the play ("My Shot") with the narrative structure? How do you square Not Throwing Away My Shot with Miranda's creative choices to racebend and appropriate black culture to tell literally the whitest story in American history?
ON "MY SHOT" AND THE NARRATIVE STRUCTURE
To be sure, My Shot is a great anthem and an incredible theme for the character, the play, and Miranda himself. Still, by the time we got to the curtain call, I was left scratching my head.
In the context of the play, Alexander effectively throws away the literal shot in the climax. This happens adjacent to the fact that the first half of the play is about fighting and killing in defense of your country, but now, using the same principle of winning an argument by murdering your opponent, Alexander decides he's better than that and tosses away his one shot.
And to be clear, I'm not saying this is good or bad or historically whatever -- but why did Miranda make this creative decision to subvert his own anthem in the finale?
Applying the spirit of the anthem to the play itself, what was Miranda's one shot with Hamilton? To create a poppy retelling of Alexander Hamilton's story? There's too many problems with racebending, cultural appropriation, and romanticizing of the founding fathers to define the play's one shot as anything more profound. And we certainly can't claim it to be historical, for all of the exact same reasons.
Poppy, fluffy entertainment. Okay. Nothing inherently wrong with that.
So let's talk about Miranda's one shot. Or not. The play is on Disney+, so it's pretty clear what his one shot was about: success.
(And of course, there's ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with claiming public and monetary success as your one shot. Except for -- maybe -- when that success is built on objectively questionable moral and creative decisions. It's 2020, remember? That line in the sand has been drawn, so it's weird that Hamilton somehow still exists in a gray area.)
ON RACEBENDING AND CULTURAL APPROPRIATION
First, my questions aren't about black people playing historically white people. It's about WHY. It's about the creative choice. It's about what Miranda is trying to say with this casting.
Because I can't hear it, whatever it is he's trying to say. Seriously, if you have an answer, let me know.
While we've thrown out historical accuracy, this still isn't straight up fiction where the rules are, I feel, different. Give us a black Spider-Man, a female Thor. They're fictional characters and representation is great, and fuck you if you've got a problem with that.
It's also REALLY easy to be cynical about Hamilton and say "well, geez, thank White Jesus that these white founding fathers existed so black actors could finally have some shoes to fill on Broadway in 2015."
That sounds awful, I know, but my point still remains: WHAT IS MIRANDA TRYING TO SAY WITH THE RACEBENDING?
He had one shot to really make a statement, and five years later, do we know what it is?
Aside from how the racebending validates the cultural appropriation, it's a fun poppy way to tell this version of the story.
And I feel like that might be the crux of my problem.
Miranda chose to use distinct ethnic storytelling methods, appropriating rap, r&b, hip hop, and soul, and used POC actors to tell an ostensibly white story -- the whitest?? -- while simultaneously romanticizing the founding fathers and diminishing the historical context of slavery.
What was that one shot again?
ON SPEAKING LESS AND SMILING MORE
I watched Hamilton on Disney+ and did not delve into any of Miranda's off-stage commentary or interviews. The night before I watched "The Babadook" and thought it was a frightening, brilliant commentary on grief.
The horror film had something to say.
In two-and-a-half hours, I'm still not sure what Hamilton was trying to say.
And I'm not saying all entertainment SHOULD have something to say, but ...
One shot, baby. That was the drum beat.
I feel like Hamilton and Miranda have way more in common with Aaron Burr and his philosophy of speaking less and smiling more.
Don't let people know what you're really thinking.
Miranda made PROFOUND creative choices in Hamilton, but the sum of those choices feel like shallow, poppy, fluffy entertainment.
Shouldn't this play be saying more, because of those creative choices?
Or am I just missing something?
Asking for a friend.
The friend is me.
Two final thoughts before I let you release the hounds.
Hamilton has a lot in common with Solo: A Star Wars Story. If both productions just changed all the character names, everything would be great. The bad part about Solo was that Harrison Ford already played the part. But if the exact same movie had just been about new characters, that shadow wouldn't have loomed.
Since he's already (attempting?) to play revisionist with Hamilton's history, Miranda should have just renamed all of the characters, allowed these fictional versions to genuinely be people of color, and embrace a Tarantino-like revisionist story.
Historical revisionism isn't a new or radical idea and immediately prompts an audience to ask "what really happened?" Tarantino entertains, provides catharsis, offers a clear message -- it somehow boggles the mind that, in 2020, it still bears repeating: Nazis bad. Kill Nazis. -- and encourages audiences to learn more.
That's all I've got. Feel free to crucify me now.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jordan Krumbine is a professional video editor, digital artist, and creative wizard currently quarantined in Kissimmee, Florida. When not producing content for the likes of Visit Orlando, Orlando Sentinel, or AAA National, Jordan is probably yelling at a stubbornly defective Macbook keyboard, tracking creative projects in Trello, and animating quirky videos with LEGO and other various toys.