Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 7 August 2020

#CancelHamilton: Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit musical under fire due to Alexander Hamilton's slavery ties

The Broadway success has come under renewed scrutiny for the history of its protagonist after being released on streaming platforms

Lin-Manuel Miranda, centre, plays Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in the filmed version of the original Broadway production. AP
Lin-Manuel Miranda, centre, plays Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in the filmed version of the original Broadway production. AP

It might be some of Broadway's finest under-the-stage lights in the filmed version of Hamilton, but it's the musical's leading man who's under the microscope.

After the release of a cinematic version of the US musical at the weekend, the hip-hop-inspired production has come under renewed scrutiny due to its protagonist.

The musical, created by actor, composer and singer Lin-Manuel Miranda, charts the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the US.

Largely inspired by Ron Chernow's 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton, the Tony Award-winning musical charts the politician's arrival in New York in 1776 until his untimely death in 1804.

Hamilton, who was orphaned after being born out of wedlock in the Caribbean, went on to become the first Secretary of the Treasury, the right-hand man of the first US president George Washington, and was widely credited with helping ratify the US Constitution.

However, the politician's links with the slave trade have resurfaced following Hamilton's release, with the hashtag #CancelHamilton this week gaining traction on social media.

While Hamilton, portrayed as a scrappy young immigrant in the eponymous musical, is not believed to have directly had enslaved people in his service, he managed slave sales for his wife’s family, the Schuylers, according to historians.

As Annette Gordon-Reed, professor of history and law at Harvard, told the Harvard Gazette: “He was not an abolitionist. He bought and sold slaves for his in-laws, and opposing slavery was never at the forefront of his agenda."

In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, social media commenters have called out the musical, which first debuted in 2015, for its links to slavery.

"Can we cancel Hamilton for glorifying our racist founding fathers and painting America as a good country," one Twitter user wrote.

"Can't believe Disney is showing a show about a slave trader in times like this. Also the actors aren't the same colour as the people they are portraying. How dare they," posted another.

Alexander Hamilton, whose face is commonly found on US$10 bills, was America's first treasury secretary. Bloomberg
A portrait of Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill. Bloomberg

The show has previously been championed for its diverse cast, with Miranda defining the musical as the "story of America then told by America now".

Miranda, 40, this week acknowledged Hamilton's timely release amid ongoing anti-racism protests in the US and beyond.

"When you write a musical that brushes against sort of the origins of this country, it's always going to be relevant," he told NPR. "The fights we had at the [country's] origin are the fights we're still having ... I've always said that slavery is the original sin of this country."

The actor added that slavery is a "system in which every character in our show is complicit in some way or another".

"Hamilton – although he voiced anti-slavery beliefs –remained complicit in the system."

Updated: July 8, 2020 07:24 AM

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