The historical Alexander Hamilton was much different than the fictionalized version portrayed in the musical Hamilton, which will premiere its filmed version on Disney Plus on July 3.
The historical Alexander Hamilton was not an abolitionist, had purchased slaves for his relatives and was an elitist who favored a president for life, according to Harvard Law School Professor of History Annette Gordon-Reed.
With Disney rumored to be auditing its entire empire for “sensitivity” that may include changes to classic historical attractions like The Hall of Presidents and The American Adventure, could Hamilton be another potential controversy in the making for The Mouse?
Annette Gordon-Reed says that while she praises the multi-ethnic portrayal of the Founding Fathers, she wonders whether the casting has helped “submerge” the issue of slavery.
From her 2016 essay called ‘Correcting Hamilton,’ which is making the rounds on social media again due to the recent George Floyd protests…
The show portrays Hamilton as a “young, scrappy, and hungry” immigrant (he was born on the Caribbean Island of Nevis, but qualified as a U.S. citizen when the Constitution was adopted), an egalitarian, and a passionate abolitionist. All of this is wrong, Gordon-Reed said.
“In the sense of the Ellis Island immigrant narrative, he was not an immigrant,” she said. “He was not pro-immigrant, either.
“He was not an abolitionist,” she added. “He bought and sold slaves for his in-laws, and opposing slavery was never at the forefront of his agenda.
“He was not a champion of the little guy, like the show portrays,” she said. “He was elitist. He was in favor of having a president for life.”
The musical simplifies and sanitizes history, said Gordon-Reed. “The Hamilton on the stage is more palatable and attractive to modern audiences,” she said.
Set amid the Revolution, the play fails to depict the central role played by slavery at that moment in history, and also neglects to mention that most of the Founding Fathers were slave owners.
“In the musical, only Jefferson is shown as a slave holder,” said Gordon-Reed, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for her book on the family of Sally Hemings, slave and mistress to Jefferson. “But Madison owned slaves too, and so did George Washington.”
And yes, Founding Father George Washington (a major character in Hamilton) did indeed own slaves, even if he allegedly struggled with it.
Disney paid $75 million for the streaming rights to the Hamilton film. It’s unlikely that they’d pull the plug on it, even though they’ve recently announced a slew of changes including a refurbishment of Splash Mountain (to remove its connection to Song of the South) and reportedly booting white actors from Black roles on animated series.
I’m Not Advocating for ‘Hamilton’ to be Censored or Cancelled.
I want to make it very clear that I’m not advocating for Disney to drop Hamilton. It’s a just work of fiction, and a fine show that may lead many to learn more about the historical Alexander Hamilton and the history of the United States.
But with Disney seemingly on a spree to purge any and all “uncomfortable” history from its classic attractions, they might want to take a good look at a recent piece of entertainment that’s just as guilty of sanitizing the past as critics claim Splash Mountain, The American Adventure and The Hall of Presidents are.
And that’s the point. It’s easy to announce a refurb to Splash Mountain right now, as it’s been in the works for quite some time. And refurbishing dated attractions is also relatively easy. Only Disney Parks diehards will likely put up resistance to the idea.
But Disney won’t touch Hamilton. They’re banking on it to be a huge draw for Disney Plus, which has been in desperate need of a hit since The Mandalorian ended. Too much money is riding on it.
But the next time Disney announces a change that no one had asked for in the name of “cultural awareness” or “political correctness,” remember how they shelled out $75 million for Hamilton and made a huge deal about airing it during “these trying times.”