“History has its eyes on you,” is perhaps the most significant and most somber line from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash Broadway hit. It hits differently after a few years, especially when we’ve begun to protest and riot and speak out against the injustices that have remained, long after we were supposed to provide a place where people could seek life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Despite a few loud opposing voices (like Ishamel Reed, who maintains that Miranda and the cast must not have done their research before taking on ‘Hamilton’, as the musical leaves out the part about the founding fathers’ slaves), ‘Hamilton’ has become a household name, introducing an entire generation (or two, or even three) to the story of Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Angelica and Eliza Schuyler (and Peggy!), Maria Reynolds, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the United States of America.
Miranda acknowledges that the play isn’t an accurate portrayal of every aspect of Hamilton’s life, and that the critiques the play has received are warranted. However, with just two and a half hours, Miranda does manage to open our eyes to the fragility of human nature, painting an impression of imperfect people who dreamed of something better for their descendants.
Here’s the thing with art, history, and humanity: no one, and nothing, is perfect, nor will it ever be. You could create a television series about the founding fathers and explore everything we know about them, and still come up short. ‘Hamilton’ isn’t about worshipping the people who created our country, it’s about building something better from what we’ve been given.
That includes art like ‘Hamilton’ – we can still appreciate the incredible cast (Daveed Diggs, Philippa Soo, and Anthony Ramos are my personal favorites, and I adore that Miranda cast people of color in all but one role – a clear middle finger to the historical figures themselves), applaud as Miranda and his friends use it to promote education and campaign for equal rights, and we can acknowledge that it is an incomplete picture. It’s up to us to continue our education, to learn about the people who came before us, as well as how we can do better than our forefathers. Art isn’t a stopping point. It isn’t the end. It’s a continuing conversation, one meant to inspire and further our understanding of humanity.
I knew very little about Alexander Hamilton before becoming acquainted with Miranda’s work (if you, like me, are a fan of Miranda as a person as well as his musical style, please listen to ‘In The Heights’ — you’ll hear a familiar voice or two as well), and while listening to the original cast album was an incredible experience, watching the show on DisneyPlus was…quite another experience altogether. The direction, the filming, the lighting, the rotating stage, the facial expressions, the costumes, it all came together in a dazzling, heartbreaking, breathtaking spectacle that left me scrambling to vocalize how much it meant to me to see the history of my country, to connect to these people who lived and breathed on the same land once upon a time.
I’m not proud of our forefathers. I’m not proud of our country. But I do think we can make it a better place, one worth being proud of, one worth celebrating. Watching ‘Hamilton’ reminds me that each person’s actions makes a difference. That we are all here, in this time and place, and what we do matters, not only in the present, but in the future. History has its eyes on us. What choices can we make today to ensure that our country’s future is better and brighter for not just a select few, but for all of us?