I haven’t heard a single bad word about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway hit Hamilton. That is until I stumbled upon James McCallister’s Howlround critique on Hamilton. In this critique, McCallister points out the lack of female representation, retelling of the unhelpful bootstrap immigration narrative, and questionable decision to tell Alexander Hamilton’s story in the first place.
The strongest point made in the article is that having people of color portray a colonizing force creates a disconnect between the the audience and an actual understanding of the severity of the racism. With the price of tickets leaving Broadway unaccessible for people of color in lower income communities, the performances are mainly viewed by a wealthier, white audience. White audience members will be able to forget their role in America’s racism when they do not have to watch themselves on the stage. Having a person of color argue for slavery makes the event feel like fantasy rather than the very real part of American history. If audience members forget their role in racism, the point of the production is missed.
At the same time, however, I question whether or not a single musical is expected to succeed in all social issues at one go. Hamilton is excellent, because it creates more space for people of color on Broadway. Also, it proves quite aggressively that there are no roles that could never be played by a person of color. When producers argue that race will distract from a story or confuse the audience, Hamilton is there to remind them of the absurdity.
What I loved the most about the McCallister’s article is that he acknowledges the master work that has been created. He is not writing to strip a powerful work of art down. He is writing, because criticism is crucial for any theatrical piece. Without criticism there is no conversation. Theater is not supposed to leave every theater goer happy. If every audience member agrees with what they saw, the conversation cannot grow. Works of art needs push back to deepen the artist’s understanding of their work. Also, it will deepen the audience’s.