On July 3, Disney gave America a big-ticket birthday gift: the musical Hamilton. After handing over a head-turning $75 million, the company began streaming a filmed version of the Lin-Manuel Miranda Broadway megahit on its Disney+ channel. It could be just what the doctor ordered as an antidote to the nation’s gloomy mood, or it could be the opposite — another cultural touchstone swept up and spit out by the vortex of the Great Awokening.
That second scenario may sound absurd. After all, Hamilton is the beloved masterpiece of the diversity revolution, an ode to the country’s multiracial future and to “immigrants [who] get the job done!” Its cast was almost entirely nonwhite, with one notable exception: a campy, mincing King George III. Miranda himself, son of Puerto Rican parents, played the musical’s namesake hero, Alexander Hamilton.
Audiences were swept up in the mischievous chutzpah of casting black actors as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and the clever rap couplets evoking the thrill of youthful revolution. “Rap is the voice of the people of our generation, and of people of color,” Miranda, winner of a MacArthur “genius” grant, has proclaimed. Hamilton won a Pulitzer Prize, a Grammy, and 16 Tony Awards. The show has grossed well over $500 million. Beyoncé, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Stephen Sondheim, Jay-Z, and a long list of other luminaries number among his fans. On social media, followers were counting the days and minutes until the television event. What could go wrong?
Such is the madness of this Jacobin moment that a 2015 progressive musical now looks quaint — even problematic. Hamilton is a rousingly, unabashedly patriotic work -- “American exceptionalism [set to] hip-hop,” as Terry Teachout put it in his Wall Street Journal review.
Kay S. Hymowitz is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. She is the author of several books, most recently The New Brooklyn. This piece was adapted from City Journal. Follow her on Twitter here.
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions