Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton
has taken the country by storm as a
pop-culture phenomenon that embraces
diverse forms of expression and
a diverse cast.
The musical relies heavily on rap and
hip-hop elements and portrays white
historical figures by black and Latino
actors. In 2015 Miranda stated, “We’re
telling the story of old, dead white men but
we’re using actors of color, and that makes
the story more immediate and more
accessible to a contemporary audience.”
Considering recent data from the
Cooperative Children’s Book Center
(CCBC) revealed children’s books by and
about people of color made up less than
5% of those published from 2002-2014,
this makes the casting of non-white actors
even more significant.
On February 15, Dr. Anthony Dunbar
examined the significance of Hamilton
gaining unanimous critical acclaim using
Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a lens to
understand the importance and impact
of social justice. The end goal of CRT—
and social justice in a broader sense—is
to reach equity of political, economic,
intellectual, educational, and legal
resources for all citizens.
CRT emerged to discuss disparities of
race in critical justice studies in an effort
to challenge the myth of fair objectivity
and neutrality in a variety of settings;
since then, the theoretical and political
framework has been expanded for use in
the different contexts and situations that
emerge from differences in class, race,
gender, disabilities, age, religion, or sexual
orientation.
Dr. Dunbar highlighted several aspects
of CRT and explained it as “a critical
analysis, involving skillful judgement
toward truth” noting that truth can
oftentimes be subjective and sometimes
relies on textual variants which provide a
counter-story.
The counter-story narrative seeks to
challenge accepted premises or myths
which are often held by majority groups,
particularly those with demeaning or
negative connotations. The last aspect
of the CRT lens highlighted was Derrick
Bell’s interest convergence, which states
“the majority group tolerates advances for
racial justice only when it suits its interest
to do so.”
So what does all this mean in relation to Hamilton? Its
box office success
coupled with its critic
and Tony acclaim has
led to the dominant
culture accepting
Hamilton as interest
convergence due to
its appealing business
enterprise. Miranda
exerts political
power in casting
black and Latino
actors portraying historically white characters
as a challenge against the common
practice of placing white actors in the
roles of people of color—an unfortunate
aspect of American entertainment
known as white-washing.
The significance of a founding father’s
success as an immigrant story can also
serve as a counter-narrative and the
incorporation of rap and hip-hop elements
also adds a fresh twist to the musical scene.
Two video clips were also included in
the lecture, a 2008 clip of Michelle Obama
in which she stated “America is hungry
for change” and another of Renee Elise
Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, and Jasmine Cephas Jones—Hamilton’s original
Schuyler sisters—performing “America
the Beautiful” at Super Bowl LI, tweaking
the lyrics slightly to “and crown thy good
with brotherhood, and sisterhood, from
sea to shining sea.”
Hopefully Hamilton’s success signifies
a shift in the wind to a more diverse and
more inclusive entertainment industry
and an audience hungry for change who
will never be satisfied.