Lin-Manuel Miranda Responded to Criticisms About 'Hamilton' and Slavery
Miranda said his play was "fair game" for critique and called the backlash "valid."
After a filmed version of the Broadway hit Hamilton was released on Disney+ on July 3rd, fans began looking at the story of Alexander Hamilton, retold and acted out by Lin-Manuel Miranda, in a different light—particularly amid the Black Lives Matter protests and raised public awareness of systemic racism in America. Miranda has now responded to criticisms of how Hamilton, the play, diminishes the issue of slavery, as well as Hamilton's, the real-life man's, role in the institution.
“All the criticisms are valid,” Miranda said in a July 6th response to those tweeting with the hashtag #CancelHamilton after its Disney+ debut.
“The sheer tonnage of complexities & failings of these people I couldn’t get. Or wrestled with but cut," he wrote, adding, “I took 6 years and fit as much as I could in a 2.5 hour musical. Did my best. It’s all fair game.”
Though it’s unclear if Hamilton himself ever owned slaves, historian Annette Gordon-Reed told The Harvard Gazette in 2016, “[Hamilton] was not an abolitionist. He bought and sold slaves for his in-laws, and opposing slavery was never at the forefront of his agenda.” His in-laws, the Schuylers, are also depicted in the play; Elizabeth ("Eliza"), Angelica, Peggy, and their father, Philip, are all characters.
Gordon-Reed continued to remind readers that Hamilton’s fellow Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington were all slave owners. “It’s not a purely heroic narrative,” Gordon-Reed said. “It’s not just celebration. The Founders accepted slavery as an institution.”
Many on Twitter (including filmmakers Ava DuVernay) agree that the brushing off of the slavery plotline is one of Hamilton’s biggest misfires.
However, despite the way Miranda handled slavery (or didn’t) in the show, the conversation we’re currently having about the actual Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and the connected topic of slavery is what’s really important.
“I really like that this conversation is happening,” writer, Strong Black Legends podcast host, and to whom Lin-Manuel Miranda responded to, Tracy Clayton tweeted. “Hamilton the play and the movie were given to us in two different worlds & our willingness to interrogate things in this way feels like a clear sign of change.”
In a separate tweet, Clayton continued, “Navigating history and historical figures is hard and messy. Humans are flawed and messy, both the ones who lived then & the ones reading and writing about them now.”
And DuVernay agreed that, even though Miranda left slavery out of the picture, doesn’t mean he is denying it happened. “I greatly enjoyed the work and was wildly curious after watching,” DuVernay tweeted. “I wouldn’t have studied any of those “founders” like I did if it wasn’t for #Hamilton and @Lin_Manuel.”
As feminist writer Roxanne Gay tweeted, it’s possible for us to love Hamilton as a brilliant, inclusive piece of theater and acknowledge its shortcomings. The conversation about the latter is what shows progress, as Clayton said.
Miranda himself has admitted that every character in his show is “is complicit in some way or another” in regard to systemic racism.
He told NPR in June, “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. The moment he seems to be addressing is during "Cabinet Battle #1," in which Hamilton says to Jefferson:
"A civics lesson from a slaver, hey neighbor / Your debts are paid 'cause you don't pay for labor / We plant seeds in the South. We create. Yeah, keep ranting / We know who's really doing the planting."
Soon after, Washington notes to Hamilton to remember that he, Washington, is also a Virginian. It's a small moment that doesn't continue much further, which Miranda noted.
He continued, “And I think that's actually pretty honest...He didn't really do much about it after that. None of them did...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?”
It's crucial to always be looking at entertainment and art, even and especially ones we enjoy, through a critical lens. Miranda would want you to do the same for Hamilton.