The Friday release of “Hamilton” on Disney+ finally made the Pulitzer-winning musical available to a mass audience, and social media takes on the tale of the first secretary of the treasury were mixed, reflecting viewpoints of a year very different from 2015, the year the play premiered on Broadway.
A number of voices praised creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s unique blend of hip-hop music and historical reenactment, highlighted the “audacious” way it included actors of color and urged audiences to support a theater industry suffering during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
But others offered more muted takes, particularly audience members who argued that casting performers of color as slave-owning Founding Fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did not necessarily reclaim United States history for people of color — especially in 2020, a year defined by racial injustice protests sparked by the police killings of George Floyd and other Black Americans.
Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent, also received criticism. Some commenters brought up his lobbying for President Barack Obama’s 2016 Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, known as PROMESA, which was designed to reduce debt in the territory but has been criticized for cutting the budgets for vital public services.
Miranda himself qualified his support of PROMESA when he brought “Hamilton” to Puerto Rico in 2019, acknowledging that the law resulted in “unintended consequences.”
Culture critic Jeva Lange argued that “Hamilton” feels “outdated” in 2020. The musical’s diverse casting seemed monumental in 2015, but “the past four years have illustrated the devastating limits of representation without accompanying fundamental change,” she wrote in The Week on the day “Hamilton” debuted on Disney+.
“Hamilton” “emerged during the sunny optimism of the late Obama era,” Lange said. “Half a decade on, we now live in a world where Hamilton has failed to age along with it, having idealistically put its full-throated faith into pre-packaged American values and ideals without acknowledging the underlying forces — like the fear-mongering, xenophobia, mean-spiritedness exploited by President Trump — that lay siege to them being realized.”
David Klion of The Nation and New Republic echoed the sentiments, tweeting that Hamilton was “Obamaism in a microcosm.”
Commentaries on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s romanticized vision of Alexander Hamilton are not new.
Historian Annette Gordon-Reed told The Harvard Gazette in 2016, “A Broadway show is not a documentary.” The play portrays Alexander Hamilton as a scrappy underdog who criticized Thomas Jefferson for maintaining slaves, but “opposing slavery was never at the forefront of [Hamilton’s] agenda,” Gordon-Reed said. The Founding Father was “elitist … [and] in favor of having a president for life,” she added.
Rutgers professor Lyra D. Monteiro expressed similar views in The New York Times. “Hamilton” “over-glorifies the man, inflating his opposition to slavery while glossing over less attractive aspects of his politics, which were not necessarily as in tune with contemporary progressive values as audiences leaving the theater might assume,” she said in 2016.
For his part, Miranda stressed that the play — as well as the flawed character of Alexander Hamilton himself — were both still relevant to America in 2020, which is “having a real reckoning” to uproot the legacy of slavery.
“When you write a musical that brushes against sort of the origins of this country, it’s always going to be relevant,” Miranda said in a June 29 interview with NPR. “The fights we had at [America’s] origin are the fights we’re still having.”