Is "Hamilton" a piece of racist, crowd-pleasing garbage?

I’ve resisted seeing “Hamilton” (the movie-- can’t afford the play) because of my general rule that anything based on history that’s THAT popular simply has to bury a lot of shit under the proverbial rug. And so any enjoyment for me would be smothered by the smell of that shit.

What do you think if you’ve seen the movie or play? If you love it, how do you overlook the aforementioned stench? Such as the fact that Hamilton himself owned and sold slaves?

Turns out “The View” of all places had a fairly open discussion about this problem:

And legendary Black American author Ishmael Reed co-wrote a sort of counterplay, which he discusses here, and which Lin-Manuel Miranda has (briefly, obliquely) acknowledged:

We challenged Lin-Manuel Miranda’s depiction of slave owners and brokers as abolitionists in his billion dollar plus musical “Hamilton, The Revolution,” with our play, “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda,” in which Miranda is taught the truth by slaves, Native-Americans and others whose views are not represented in “Hamilton.”

The reviews of our play were mixed, and Miranda and company ignored our reservations about their musical. Some of those who discussed our play, ridiculed me without having seen it. The low point came with ridicule from NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.” Yet, “The View,” which those at NPR would consider low brow, presented a balanced discussion of our play. Even though our play was denounced in the comments sections of Broadway World and The New York Times, it continued to dog “Hamilton” in the international media. It took George Floyd’s live execution to inspire another look at the American past.


“I love that Angelica has this beautiful, showstopping song (‘Satisfied’),” says Alicia Piemme Nelson, an actor, clown, educator and Oakland resident who has worked with Bay Area Theatre Cypher, Bay Area Children’s Theatre, San Francisco Playhouse and Berkeley Playhouse, among others. Still, she says, it’s important to recognize that “the women in the show are vehicles for the men, essentially. They are there to further the men’s stories and not to further their own. All three women are love interests: One (Angelica) is the neglected love interest. The other (Eliza) is the calm, demure wife. And the third (Maria Reynolds) is the sex symbol who ruins the marriage.”

“Women of color already have it so hard when it comes to being allowed to tell our stories,” Nelson says.


In fairness, all characters in the musical were fleshed out only insomuch as how they related to the title character’s life. If George Washington had been the main character in the play it would have been an unforgivable omission not to draw more attention to the fact that he enslaved human beings, but as a supporting character Lin-Manuel Miranda chose to focus on how his mentorship related to Alexander Hamilton specifically.

I didn’t view the play as something intended to paint a complete picture of the Founding Fathers. I don’t recall anyone even mentioning Benjamin Franklin, who arguably played a bigger role in the United States’ formation than any other single human being.


That is a great discussion on The View. I’m not sure Miranda is entirely ignoring the criticism – I did see this tweet the other day:


Loved it. YMMV, but I think it’s possible to enjoy it and appreciate it and also criticize its failures, including the failure to address Hamilton’s own connections with slavery.


It is a great play and great performances by all involved. They couldn’t possibly delve too deep into everything, its a play…time limits exist. I am not of the mindset it has to be perfectly historically accurate…again, its a performance, not a documentary.

They don’t shy from some of the bad and there are clear criticisms within the lines to keep things honest.

Overall, it deserves all the praise it gets. It’s worth the watch.


I think it’s great, but I also recognize that it’s not trying to be a history lesson. It’s a 2 hour 40 minute long play that attempts to collapse about 30 years of history about one person into that time span. A lot gets overlooked, compressed, shuffled, and warped to tell a particular story about Alexander Hamilton and the way he went from nothing to being a very powerful figure in the American Revolution, only to then ruin his life through his own actions. It’s not trying to be a Ken Burns documentary that encompasses the full complexity of the founding of America.

Any exploration of America’s past is going to be fraught with how to address the complex and extremely problematic nature of its origins, and whether Hamilton threads that particular needle in a way that you think is acceptable is kind of down to your individual tastes. The play doesn’t outright ignore slavery, for instance, it’s just something that looms over the setting. According to Lin, there were originally songs that dealt with the topic more directly, but they were cut because they didn’t go anywhere; they started and ended with two sides diametrically opposed, with neither one winning the argument in the moment, so from a narrative perspective, they didn’t do anything to further the characterization or historical through-line that Lin was after. That said, it does push Alexander further into the opposition’s ranks than he was in reality in Lin’s effort to establish it as an evil that the country was unwilling to effectively grapple with. At the same time, though, the play doesn’t really shy away from the fact that Alexander really wasn’t a super great person. The second act is pretty much entirely consumed by him ruining his own life by being petulant, impulsive, and arrogant. If you come away from the play with an overtly positive view of the guy, I don’t think you were paying enough attention.

I also particularly take exception to the assertion that Eliza is only there to be a demure wife. She is given agency over her relationship with Alexander throughout the play, and “Burn” in particular is anything but her being calm and accepting of what Alexander did to ruin their marriage. She even comes back at the end of the play to recount her own accomplishments after Alexander’s death as the play’s coda.


Replying to endorse this take.


I enjoy the music. Miranda’s references to other shows deepen the experience for me. And using Hamilton’s own words in a modern rap…

The show, in person was AMAZING. I’ve been underwhelmed by the movie so far (watched the first half, but haven’t made it back). I think part of that might be how much I enjoyed the live show (Chicago, 2018) and those particular actors’ performances.

All of the criticism you’ve cited is completely valid, for all the reasons you started out with. Historical dramas aren’t accurate history.

My own personal addition, if you really want to enjoy the show, go to the show. Dress up, night on the town style. Be the event. Don’t bother with the movie. If you’re going to critique it for history, curl up with
I’ve started it, it’s a great read as far as I got (library wanted it back, and I haven’t gotten it again yet, I intend to finish it).
But if you just want to know what the cultural references are to it for the next 40 years, the movie is good.

It’s worth listening to the Hamilton mix tape for the song demos that he dropped, for slavery cabinet battle #3 in particular. The cutting room floor is always an interesting spot.


I actually haven’t watched it though I’m really familiar with the music and we (my children and I) sing it together. I think we’ve had some great conversations about sexism, racism, and power through the lyrics.

That said I always saw it as a fantasy version of the founding of the US. For pretty much everybody outside the US when you encounter the US revolution as a kid you ask “but slavery? But killing the native Americans?” This version imagines them all as manumission enthusiasts - the main characters all are in this version. Apart from Jefferson who is by way of being the villain of the piece (Diggs is great as him and Lafayette). While the utter vileness of slavery is recognised I think a problem is it’s avoidance of the genocide of native americans and the theft of their land. I don’t think that gets a mention.

I guess the point about it being a fantasy version of the US revolution that you could get unambigously behind is really what I want to say though. It’s not history, it’s more what you wished had happened.

Franklin is only very briefly mentioned (by Eliza - dumbass Angelica I just wasn’t sure I could spell Renee Elise Goldsberry in her absolute showstopper of a song Satisfied) though there was originally a whole song about him cut in the previews.


Yeah the expectations you bring in to the experience definitely makes a big difference to how likely you are to enjoy it. As a rule if you want a complete, historically accurate and appropriately nuanced account of revolutionary-era events then you should probably steer away from a play in which cabinet members settle foreign policy disputes with rap battles.

Even so I think the net impact of the musical has been a major plus for the popular understanding of early U.S. history. Before this play came out few non-history-buffs could even tell you who Alexander Hamilton was. There was even a famous “Got Milk?” commercial in the 1990s predicated on the idea that most people wouldn’t know the name of the person who shot him. Now we’re debating things like “just how dedicated was Hamilton to the abolition of slavery?” and "doesn’t Eliza Shuyler Hamilton deserve to be remembered for more than her part in her husband’s legacy? Those are good, worthy discussions to have, but I don’t think we’d be having them right now if “Hamilton” wasn’t such a crowd-pleasing play.

  1. I haven’t seen Hamilton. My only exposure is hearing assorted white lib podcasters and celebrities rave about it, and liking this song off the Hamilton Mixtape:
  1. That said, I have been exposed to a lot of critique of Hamilton in assorted online activist communities.

a) Pretty much everyone on the left hates Hamilton (both the show and the man). The history is whitewashed trash, the music is mediocre.

b) Puerto Rican leftists have a particularly intense dislike of Lin Manuel-Miranda, due to such issues as his support for PROMESA.


The reason this musical doesn’t mention the genocide of native Americans is twofold- a) at the time that genocide had barely begun. The Western frontier was in Pennsylvania. Nobody knew about the deaths from European diseases that ravaged the population before Europeans landed in Massachusetts. B) to the extent that native populations were being killed, most of the (ex)British population was all for it. They didn’t think the natives were guardians of the soil, they thought they were uncivilized savages who didn’t know about Christ and whose farming tactics were unfamiliar and who didn’t have cities etc.etc. Why those savages should get to live on land that could be more profitably used by good Christian Communities wasn’t an argument people were having.


I’ve seen it, and I took it with a grain of salt, because it’s good ART which is loosely based on history, not a historical account.

Personally, I’m tired of people giving Lin Manuel Miranda shit for Hamilton, as if he has a time machine to go back and rectify other people’s crimes.

L-MM is not perfect, and his successful musical isn’t perfect, but it’s seriously the least of my fucking worries right now.



It’s not perfect, and the people it is about are far from perfect. But it’s hell of a good musical, and it’s not racist, crowd-pleasing garbage by any halfway reasonable definition.


Every piece of art that is successful with a lot of its audience, or that even has a broad audience to begin with, has been “crowd-pleasing.” If you want art that challenges its contemporaries then you have to fund art for art’s sake and make sure that there are many thriving communities making art of that type independently. I guess that’s all I really have to say about it.



Thanks, so I’ve gathered in other places. Not here tho, where “left” mostly means “mainstream liberal,” and where it’s therefore (supposedly) not a problem to ignore the stench of swept-away racist shit in order to feel entertained.


Why did you bother to start this topic, then? Honestly, why?


With due respect, it kind of sounds like you decided that “Hamilton” was a piece of racist, crowd-pleasing garbage before starting this topic and asked the question rhetorically in order to shame those of us in the BBS who found it an entertaining piece of art.


Sorry, no, that wasn’t my intent, and to answer @alahmnat too, I was hoping for edification from the many good thinkers here (a place in which, I’d gathered, a lot of folks do like “Hamilton”) about why “Hamilton” is so popular, even among people who, I would think, can see what sound like big problems in it.

@Wanderfound’s comment then clarified something for me that I sometimes forget, or I guess overlook. I hope this thread stimulates or clarifies thought for others about “Hamilton,” as it already has for me.


I’m a white woman living in Australia and I love it. I have watched it about 5 or 6 times at this point. I like because the songs are damn well written and because it tells the story of a brilliant and flawed man. I know it’s not an accurate portrayal of history. I have done some fooling around on the internet learn more about what actually happened, as they don’t teach much US history in Australia (not upset about that). I think it helps to view it as a conversation starter and not a full conversation in and of itself.