This past weekend, the long-awaited Disney Plus movie Hamilton was released to millions of people across the world. The cinematic adaptation of playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda’s historic theatrical production helped Disney Plus downloads increase by more 750,000 over a three-day span, up 74 percent from the company’s downloads in June 2020.
Hamilton has taken the country by storm unlike anything else we have experienced in modern American theater. Yet when the groundbreaking performance of Hamilton, the adaption of Ron Chernow’s famous book, first hit Broadway in January 2015, Americans were living in an entirely different political and social climate than the one we are finding ourselves in now.
As the Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice causes have significantly penetrated our cultural ethos, Americans’ criticism and historical evaluation of our nation’s Founders has shifted dramatically.
America’s Founders, such as those depicted in the Hamilton performance like Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the like, are people we are popularly taught to hold in high esteem. But as we come to terms with the Founders’ flaws as human beings, and leaders, while putting their accomplishments into proper historical context, it certainly alters the way in which so many Americans come to interpret this time period of American history.
While the Founders are certainly flawed, complex characters, the beauty of Hamilton is that it tells a foundational story of our nation’s history in an accessible, aspirational way. For one, the hip-hop style of the production, with brilliantly crafted lyrics, makes the play and movie appealing to a wide generational spectrum of viewers. There is not a dull moment during this play and movie, and it is easy to find yourself on the edge of your seat the entire time while learning about important moments in American history.
Moreover, the way in which this story is told is unique: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ensemble is racially diverse with the characters played by an array of Black, Latinx, and White cast members. This truly allows for the characters to speak to the citizens of a diverse nation and provides the chance for so many young people to see American values in a different light.
I believe that Hamilton helps provide a platform for what modern Americans want our society to embody; it puts an, altogether, positive lens on the meaning of our democratic principles, and lofty goals, that our Founders put forth for injecting new norms into a nascent, thriving government in Western Civilization.
In these characters, I also see people who had high hopes, but they were never positive about the results of their actions. That is something that I think we all can relate to as human beings. Our Founders took risks, put their lives on the line for change, and produced the tenets of a new democracy based on their mission and values, without a clear idea of what could, and would, happen.
As American citizens, we grapple with tough decisions every day about our health, politics, finances, careers, and families; we aim to make these decisions for the benefit of ourselves, and our loved ones. Sometimes, when we make big life choices, we must put our trust in processes that could yield variable results. Our Founders went through some of the same personal struggles and internal battles, but their core values steered them toward making decisions that benefited the greater good and advancing democracy forward.
For that I am grateful, and that is why watching Hamilton gives me hope about the future and fate of American democracy.
What are your thoughts about the Hamilton movie and/or play? Where does Hamilton fit into the current cultural conversation?
© Tyra Manning 2020