Issue 6: The Medium Is The Message
Why Hamilton is problematic and other films that I appreciated more.
Welcome to issue 6 of Blaxplaining! I hope you are all being safe out here in these streets, wearing your masks, and continuing to social distance. If not, shame on you (Just kidding...but, am I?).
Anyways, racism, selfishness, and stupidity are at an all-time high now, but I don’t have the willpower to talk about it today, but you know what I do want to talk about? Hamilton, yes Hamilton. But before I do, I must begin by saying that I love television and films. I admire great storytelling and thoroughly enjoy terrible movies. But I must also say that I am extremely critical of overhyped movies that usually turn out to be mediocre at best. Fortunately, during this lovely journey of unemployment, I’ve had numerous hours, days, and even months to discover a variety of great (and not-so-great) entertainment. That being said, I was really looking forward to seeing Hamilton…
Now, Hamilton is just ehhhh. I didn’t hate it, but I certainly didn’t love it. I’m usually a sucker for a good musical with a multiracial cast, but watching it did not spark joy. There are some bops and the cast is unbelievably talented —don’t even get me started on Daveed Diggs and Anthony Ramos 😍 — but I just can’t take the story and glorification of old racist white men at face value.
My biggest issue with the play is that beautiful Black and Brown people are playing crusty, slave-owning white men. Though it may seem revolutionary for Black and Brown people to portray our country’s founders, the play tends to gloss over the fact that these so-called “founding fathers” had slaves or at the least were slave-owner adjacent. Spoiler alert: the play did allude to Thomas Jefferson as a slave-owner, but forgot to mention that George Washington and the Schuyler family also had slaves. The play continued to give a voice to these characters while ignoring the Black people who existed during this period of history. Also, why Alexander Hamilton out of all people? Why not make a musical about Crispus Attucks, Phyllis Wheatley, or even Sally Hemmings? Or better yet, make a musical about a revisionist history where we see Native Americans, Black, and Brown people create America in their image. Now, THAT would have been 20x more interesting.
Another issue I had is not noticeable in the film, but no less important. It is widely known that Broadway audiences are overwhelmingly White and that tickets for Hamilton are expensive as Hell. So if you think about, you had a multiracial cast in a story that glorifies slave-owning white men while performing in front of a majority-white audience. It’s essentially doing what history does best, which is to ignore real Black and Brown stories for the satisfaction of a white audience. Yes, it is a product of the “post-racial” Obama era, and maybe I would have liked it if I saw it when it first came out five years ago, but in these racially-charged times, I do not have the time or energy for the glorification of our country’s founders who considered people like me 3/5ths a human. Also, I refuse to like the same things as Dick Cheney and Mike Pence.
Fortunately, I did come across other pieces of media that DID spark joy, and that had complex BIPOC characters with stories that were specifically made for them:
Moonlight: This is a simple and beautiful film but with overtly complex themes such as Black masculinity, sexuality, and vulnerability. This film destroys the hyper-masculine, monolithic stereotypes we see in media, and humanizes Black men. In these times, this film is extremely healing. What more can you ask for when you have a complex, vulnerable, and lovable dark-skin male lead with an affectionate and accepting father-figure while figuring out his sexuality and growing up in the hood?
I May Destroy You: I’ve been a big fan of Micaela Coel ever since her genius of a show Chewing Gum, but her new show, I May Destroy You, is just as brilliant. Although some of the scenes can be triggering, it is extremely raw and shows the complexity and real emotions associated with being a rape survivor. However, the level of intimacy it presents is something I’ve never seen on television. Micaela Coel, as the character Arabella, is flawed and carefree but true to herself and that’s extremely freeing to see as a Black woman.
The Old Guard: The film is a comic book adaptation about a group of immortal warriors that kick ass and take names. We have two female leads, a multicultural cast, a loving gay couple, amazing action-scenes, strong world-building, and complex story-telling. I have nothing bad to say about this film, besides the fact that I needed it to be longer.
Bonus: Ziwe Fumudoh’s Instagram Live Show: Who knew that seeing white people be so uncomfortable and awkward about answering questions about race would be so fulfilling? Comedian Ziwe Fumudoh asks her white guests questions about race that often reveal their ignorance and their participation in racism. It can be a little cringeworthy, but these are truly the types of conversations that are needed in today’s age.
Although I’m not a fan of Hamilton, I still recommend seeing the play and coming up with your conclusions. If it’s not that deep, then I highly recommend seeing all the wonderful things I’ve mentioned above. Please let me know what you think when you do!
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Until next time,