By: Helen Hudson
Throughout the halls of St. Mary's, you can frequently hear the words of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton being sung loudly. This musical sparked attention not only because of the catchy songs and the historical background, but because of the revolutionary way it was cast. Lin Manuel-Miranda, the writer and director of the play, cast each role based solely on ability, disregarding race completely. Read more about Lin Manuel-Miranda and the reaction of St. Mary's girl Sabrina Spence to protest against whitewashing.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the director and creator of the Broadway hit, Hamilton: An American Musical, sparked attention not only with his ability to share the captivating story of Alexander Hamilton, but also with a team cast solely on talent. Although expected in musical theater, this practice of casting merely on merit is strikingly rare. Miranda, in doing so, managed to curate a remarkably talented and remarkably diverse set of actors.
Miranda, born in 1980 to Puerto Rican immigrants living in New York City, made his debut with his musical In the Heights in 1999. The show, set in Washington Heights and featuring Latin and traditional show tunes, earned Miranda four Tony awards later that year.
After reading the 2004 Ron Chernow book Alexander Hamilton, Miranda’s fascination with Hamilton was sparked. Implementing hip-hop, R&B, and pop sounds, Miranda ultimately wrote and starred in a musical rendition of Hamilton’s life. First premiering at the Public Theater in early 2015, it only took a mere few months for Hamilton to sell-out on Broadway.
After seeing Hamilton herself, Sabrina Spence (11) said, “I cried because there has never been a show like Hamilton that has absolutely no dialogue: it’s all rap.” Sabrina also addressed the diversity of the cast when she observed, “normally when you see a broadway show, you see very few cast members of color because the roles are generally white men. Miranda ignored that.” To finish, she commented, “since Hamilton has taken the world by storm, it’s going to change the way people view theater. It was really inspiring to see people who looked like me on a stage. I saw people who looked like me and my friends on stage, which was really refreshing.”
11 Tonys and a Pulitzer Prize later, Hamilton still holds on to one of its most distinct characteristics: its casting. While nearly the entirety of the characters are historically white, almost none of the Hamilton cast is white. In fact, the auditions specifically called for “non-white” actors. In doing so, Miranda sought to protest the whitewashed America of the late 1700’s.
To quote Natalie Molnar from Ruby Liles’s (9) article analyzing whitewashing in the arts, “whitewashing has a direct, harmful impact on not only the movie itself, but [also] the audience.”
On October 21st, PBS aired a special called Hamilton’s America, that shows the making of the play, as well as certain scenes. There is consistent whitewashing Hollywood, yet Miranda’s play stands in direct protest against this manner of whitewashing, proving his intent to make a political statement not only through catchy rap lyrics but also affluential actions.