Is there any doubt that Ishmael Reed Oaklands is the author of Conscience and Consistency?
He was my teacher in graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. From him I learned a number of truisms about writing. For me, when in doubt, the Filipinos. Don’t take them out! Another was career counseling. The more money you make, the less you can say. Conversely, the less you earn, the more you can say. And that brings me to the topic of this column.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of In the Heights, opened the film version of the musical last week. It’s a bubbling hydrant of diversity. It should bring a lot of money. But when I spoke to him a few weeks ago, I wanted to talk about his other monster hit, “Hamilton,” which Miranda used what I call a little affirmative action. He put the black and brown actors in the white pieces.
The founding fathers were “Hamiltoned”. Revolutionary?
“Well, it’s interesting,” he said. “When I picked up the book, the idea was that it was an R&B hip-hop musical, so of course the Black and Brown actors would play those roles. As I read the book for the first time, I wonder which of my favorite hip-hop artists should play Hercules Mulligan or George Washington. They were always people of color and the music reflects that. I was rather surprised that everyone was surprised when we finally got out. “
“I think it kicks the door,” he added. “Why are we so literal when it comes to this stuff? And you know, I see Shakespeare with people of all races playing the parts. Why can’t this be the case with our founders? We know what they look like – they’re on our goddamned money. So let’s move on from here. But I think once you see a show that has the diversity that we have on stage, it’s very difficult to go back to those all-white productions because you have to wonder why, what stories we don’t get to see when you the?”
You still have to ask what you are getting. Miranda was comfortable enough to swear and didn’t like the term “affirmative action”. But did he rehabilitate Hamilton and make him and the others better than them by applying the hip-hop beat?
It was the perfect opening to ask a question about Reed, the award-winning MacArthur writer, satirist, and playwright who wrote The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda last year, a play that confronts Miranda for failure to highlight the true story of Hamilton.
Hamilton and his in-laws, the Schuyler family, were slave owners.
Miranda may have given the actors a tone, but the historical soul remains the same. Only covered. Reed finds Miranda deceived by Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography, which Miranda used as the primary source for his up-close musical glossing over our racist founders.
“I think it must be a cultural crime to seduce thousands of children, and even inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, into believing that Hamilton and the Schuyler girls are ‘ardent abolitionists,'” Reed told me.
When I asked Miranda my question about Reed, the PR representative interfered: “We don’t really have time.”
Then Miranda says, “I have a long schedule, I’m sorry. Many Thanks.”
It would have been interesting to hear his answer as “Hamilton” is starting a new tour in August.
But this is mega showbiz, and the PR juggernaut has to go on.
So Miranda wiggled outside. He could have answered. I gave him an injection.
On the other hand, Miranda has this new property for sale that is much cleaner and happier. “In the Heights” is the feel-good film of the post-pandemic. All hydrants are gushing.
But he should also make sure we all know that Hamilton wasn’t a hip-hop hero, just another founding slave owner. Miranda’s color change doesn’t change the story, nor make it any less tasteless.
In fact, the 2021 tour for “Hamilton” is coming to San Francisco, Sacramento and San Jose for multi-week runs from August to October.
Will he be clean by then? Or do you come up with a new song? In the meantime, be sure to read Reed’s The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda. There is no music to wash away the truth.
Emil Guillermo is a seasoned journalist and commentator based in the Bay Area. He vlogs on www.amok.com Twitter @emilamok