Film & TV

Hamilton: An Eye Opener For Racial Prejudice

By Georgia Glenn

Hamilton is a musical depicting the life and death of Alexander Hamilton: one of the founding fathers of the United States of America. Following his birth to his legacy after death, we are given insight into an immigrant who helped birth America. The first act highlights Hamilton’s naivety and his expressed emotions. We meet Eliza, his wife, along with Angelica, his perhaps true love, and Aaron Burr, the man who is Hamilton’s ultimate demise. It is very clear that Hamilton lacks confidence at the start of the musical, vocalizing his thoughts but backing down at parts. The fact that he wears all white (for a short while) suggests he is blending into normality, rather than picking it apart. The rap/musical theatre mixture concretes the fact that this production is a 21st century interpretation that mirrors the 1800s and now 2020s to show the similarities between society then and now. John Laurens’ line in ‘Aaron Burr, Sir’, “I will (imitates gunfire) these cops till I’m free” has a huge significance on the audience watching it from July 3rd due to the heightened awareness of racial and social injustice within  the law system in  America. 

Watching it now , it is clear to see the links between Hamilton and the Black Lives Matter  movement. As the cast is racially diverse and features strong, black actors as its leads (Renée Elise Goldsberry as Angelica or Daveed Diggs as Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson, for example) , it calls upon the need for actors within the black community to be celebrated. Not only does it highlight their exceptional talent, it also acts as a beacon of hope for those fighting for change. Just like Hamilton, people around the world are protesting and fighting for racial injustice to disappear; to be knocked down. The musical acts as a reflection for our current society – the fact that they have a racially diverse cast is not a coincidence. Even though the founding fathers and their subjects were white, creator Lin-Manuel Miranda deemed it necessary to cast POC actors to highlight what the musical was really about.

As the show progresses in  Act 1, the depth and range of songs is truly astonishing. Take ‘History Has Its Eyes on You’, for example; this song encompasses all that Hamilton stands for. He wanted to build a legacy, he wanted to make a change as an immigrant and also as an outsider. Hamilton, throughout, is met with parts of his life circling around him. His battle between loving Eliza as his wife and longing for Angelica as the one who got away is expertly shown through the moving stage; Angelica is whisked away before Eliza travels around and moves Hamilton off the stage, their arms linked. Amidst the war and fighting (with Jonathan Groff portraying a creepily authentic King George III), the sweet energy used in ‘Theodosia’ breaks up the anger and focuses instead on human emotions. For two strong and clashing personalities, the arrival of Hamilton and Burr’s firstborn children immediately draws us to the fact that they ultimately want the same thing: to love and to be loved. Leslie Odom Jr shows us just how fragile and small Burr can be: his main character trait is to stand to the side and keep his cards close to his chest. This song takes us on a journey into Burr’s heart, allowing us to grow alongside him.

Act 2 breaks the fourth wall with the characters looking deep into the audience as soon as the first chord strikes. The staging of Hamilton reveals to us that the audience of the film is the fourth side. Everything that happens within this ‘box’ of a musical encircles us as the audience, giving us a front-row view. Odom Jr acts more so as a narrator than ever before, highlighting key aspects of Hamilton’s life for the audience to endure. His anger and frustration from not standing/falling for anything is shown when he is not consulted with political matters. Interestingly, the man who wanted to make as little impact as possible with his voice made the biggest of all with his actions. Christopher Jackson (George Washington) gave one of the most compelling performances I have ever seen in musical theatre.

By quoting the scripture “Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree/And no one shall make them afraid, they’ll be safe in this nation we’ve made” hits home that even in  the 21st century, Americans do not feel safe; people of colour do not feel safe.

After years of racial injustice and violence, this musical gives them the confidence to say enough is enough. As the show reaches its wholesome ending, it is Phillipa Soo (Eliza) who must be re-introduced; she has taken Eliza from a girl looking for love to a woman who is writing her own narrative. Even without Hamilton, she is able to accomplish most of what she wanted, drawing back again on one of the show’s key themes:  time. 

Hamilton is a fresh, eye-opening musical that not only examines racial prejudice but also highlights how one of America’s founding fathers’ was seemingly erased from history. It is a must see show not only for it’s refreshing soundtrack but the actors, stage, costumes etc. are second to none.

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