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Hamilton: Putting People of Color Back in the Narrative

Award-winning actor, Lin Manuel Miranda, has brought history and musical theatre back into the hearts of Americans. Hamilton, the hottest ticket on Broadway, is revolutionary and not just because of its subject. The entire show is centered around the first Treasury Secretary and set to rap/hip hop music. The majority of the cast are people of color playing old, dead, white men. This has caused some controversy over the casting calls, and a lawsuit has been filed against Hamilton for racism and discrimination.

Randolph McLaughlin, a civil rights attorney, filed a lawsuit against Hamilton for violating The New York City Human Rights Law. By requesting that only “Non White actors ages 20-30” audition for lead roles (except King George) and the chorus, violates equity guidelines. All actors who wish to audition must be considered, despite age, race, gender, etc. Hamilton producers responded to the lawsuit with the following comment:

“Hamilton depicts the birth of our nation in a singular way. We will continue to cast the show with the same multicultural diversity that we have employed thus far. The producers of Hamilton regret the confusion that's arisen from the recent posting of an open call casting notice for the show. It is essential to the storytelling of Hamilton that the principal roles—which were written for nonwhite characters (excepting King George)—be performed by non white actors. This adheres to the accepted practice that certain characteristics in certain roles constitute a "bona fide occupational qualification" that is legal. This also follows in the tradition of many shows that call for race, ethnicity or age specific casting, whether it's The Color Purple or Porgy & Bess or Matilda. The casting will be amended to also include language we neglected to add, that is, we welcome people of all ethnicities to audition for Hamilton.”

Hamilton is not only giving actors of color a chance to play roles that are usually unavailable to them, but the opportunity to see history through a more relatable lense. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Daveed Diggs (who plays Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson) discussed what Hamilton did for his relationship with American history. “Once I read the script and heard the songs, I knew there was something great there. Watching Chris Jackson play George Washington for a week, I left thinking that the dollar bill looked wrong. I walked out of the show with a sense of ownership over American history. Part of it is seeing brown bodies play these people.”

People of color are often erased from the narrative of our country’s creation and sustention; Hamilton puts these men and women back in the narrative. Creator and actor Lin Manuel Miranda often speaks of Hamilton “telling the story of America then by America now.” America now is made up of 18.9 million people of color. To accuse Hamilton of being racist or discriminatory is absurd. In 2011/2012 79% of actors on Broadway and working with nonprofit theatres were white. It is time to recognize that the underrepresentation of people of color is a growing problem in the entertainment industry. Hamilton’s unique casting choices and musical genres allow patrons of the theatre to reflect on freedom and equality, which is what our founding fathers fought for, after all.

 

Natalie DeRoche

May, 2016