Story at a glance
- The musical Hamilton, which premiered in 2015, is now streaming on Disney+.
- While many viewers were excited to watch the critically acclaimed production, others critiqued its portrayal of Alexander Hamilton.
- The discussion highlights shifts in American society and culture in the last five years.
When Alexander Hamilton first came under the spotlight as the subject of a new Broadway musical in 2015, the "bastard, orphan, son of a whore" was portrayed as a different type of founding father.
The son of a Scottish immigrant father and a British West Indian mother, his immigrant status was a revelation for an America in the throes of a fierce migration crisis at its Southern border. But five years later, the film adaptation of the musical about a man who also owned and traded slaves debuted on Disney+ between a global pandemic and the removal of racist statues of memorials across the country. Its reviews have been mixed.
Rosa A. Clemente, a verified user on Twitter and former vice presidential candidate for the Green Party, said on Twitter that she started the "#CancelHamilton" hashtag along with a petition asking Disney to cancel the streaming premiere of the film on July 3. The petition, titled "#AbajoHamilton" (translated to "Down with Hamilton"), had 310 out of a goal of 400 signatures as of July 6.
To correct the record on June 28th I, started the #CancelHamilton hashtag, on July 1st me, @robvato ans David Garlaza wrote the petition and @PresenteOrg created the landing page for distribution. Other organizations we asked declined after Lin Manuel gave them $$$ pic.twitter.com/EcRvweQzZN— Rosa A. Clemente (@rosaclemente) July 6, 2020
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Cancel culture has been highly criticized, especially from members of the political right, for shutting down debate rather than engaging with unpopular opinions. The term originated from Black Twitter users following the "Me Too" movement, and means to stop giving support to a particular person, whether by way of boycotting or simply not promoting their work. Celebrities such as Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. were "canceled" after claims of sexual assault and misconduct, and others, including Roseanne Barr, were "canceled" after racist comments.
But while some people have tweeted with the hashtag, "CancelHamilton," the call has not gained much traction on Twitter or other forms of social media. In fact, many of the top Tweets using the hashtag were either reporting on or actively criticizing the sentiment behind it.
good people. It's BASIC AMERICAN HISTORY that the founding fathers were not good people. 2 years ago you wouldn't shut up about the musical. Now you want to cancel it? Yeah, you guys are dumbasses.— Taylor Nicole (@taylorxnicole07) July 3, 2020
I keep seeing stuff about #CancelHamilton just stop. Yes, most of the founding fathers owned slaves. It was a norm back then. This diverse cast is simply trying to show our country’s fight for freedom. Don’t watch it if you don’t like it. @Lin_Manuel is an artist.— Miranda Rose (@_maerose) July 6, 2020
Some users jumped to the defense of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created and starred in the musical as Hamilton, but the actor himself acknowledged the criticism as valid.
Appreciate you so much, @brokeymcpoverty. All the criticisms are valid. The sheer tonnage of complexities & failings of these people I couldn’t get. Or wrestled with but cut. 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. https://t.co/mjhU8sXS1U— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) July 6, 2020
In a video posted to the official Hamilton Twitter account on May 30, Miranda declared his support for the Black Lives Matter movement and apologized for not having spoken out earlier.
"'Hamilton' doesn’t exist without the Black and brown artists who created and revolutionized and changed the world through the culture, music and language of hip hop – literally the idea of the show doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist without the brilliant Black and brown artists and our cast, crew and production team who breathe life into this story every time it’s performed,” he said in the video.
When it first premiered, Hamilton was awarded much acclaim for its use of Black actors and other actors of color to portray white characters, as well as its incorporation of hip hop, a Black-originated genre, in the traditionally conservative, white style of Broadway theatre.
But five years later and under a new administration, the film has been released to a much larger audience that is holding its main character to a higher standard. While Hamilton is portrayed as an outsider, he was also white, college-educated and a participant in the slave trade. He rallied support for a Constitution that considered a Black person to be three-fifths of a person, and he took sex as a form of payment from Maria Reynolds after she came to him for help with an abusive relationship.
In an opinion editorial for CNN, Ed Morales described “the problem with the ‘Hamilton’ movie,” noting that the play’s hero and message are “essentially ambivalent.”
“'Hamilton' is quaint and noncommittal. HamilFilm has arrived at a moment when America is not satisfied with ambivalence or compromise, but yearning for real and necessary change,” Morales said.
Disney has not yet released official viewership numbers for the film, but the Disney+ app saw a 72 percent increase in downloads over the weekend, according to Variety. Clearly, despite a hashtag, “Hamilton” has not been canceled entirely — simply critiqued, as any film.
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