With the coronavirus shutting down movie theaters for the foreseeable future, studios have delayed countless releases — some by weeks, others by months, and a handful even pushed into future years. However, Hamilton, the filmed version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway sensation, has been one of the rare movies to move forward, and by a significant frame. The debut was originally planned for October 2021 before Disney+ announced it would premiere on the streaming platform July 3.
In a video chat with Yahoo Entertainment, Miranda and his cast explained why the world could use the hip-hop-driven history tale now — as the U.S. continues to reel from a pandemic that has shut down the entertainment world accompanied by civil unrest and a racial reckoning following the police killing of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests.
For Miranda, who has pivoted from Tony Award-winning creator (In the Heights) to Hollywood regular (Moana, Mary Poppins and the upcoming In the Heights movie, which is among the many films delayed), there are two very good reasons to push the release of Hamilton forward.
“I don’t know that there’s ever a right time,” began Miranda, who was joined on Zoom by director Thomas Kail (watch above). “I do know that in a time when there is no live theater, and that includes Hamilton, but is [also] regional theater and off-Broadway theater, and the fact that we had this beautiful love letter to theater in movie form that Tommy has spent three years editing, [it] felt like a gift and it felt like a gift we could give you sooner, and in this moment, rather than later. [The Broadway League announced earlier this week that the fabled New York theater district would remain shuttered until 2021.]
“Then, in terms of the moment we’re in… we’re in a moment where we’re talking about systemic injustice that has been there since the founding of our country. And so the lyrics that deal with that resonate more now than I think they may have in 2015. The words of the show have not changed but the world sure has.”
Says Daveed Diggs, who won a Tony Award for playing the dual roles of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson and who has gone on to appear in films like Blindspotting and the new Snowpiercer series: “Hamilton is a pretty intelligent, pretty complicated show that’s examining political issues in a nuanced way and telling a story incredibly virtuosically through great performers and is unafraid to center Black people in the discussion of the history of this country. And I think all of those things allowed this piece of art to be moved forward.”
“We’re asking a lot of questions right now,” says fellow Tony winner Renée Elise Goldsberry (Waves). “We’re wondering how we inherited the problems that we have. We’re trying to remember what it felt like to go anywhere and be connected intimately with anybody that is not the same two or three people. There are times when art saves the day and this could potentially be one of them. At the very least it’s something to do, but I believe it’s bigger than that. I believe it will give voice to a revolution and I believe it’ll bring families even closer.”
In telling the story of the founding fathers with a focus on the tragic arc of Alexander Hamilton, Miranda and company not only crafted a hip-hop musical, but boldly casted a multicultural company to play the likes of Eliza Hamilton (Phillipa Soo), Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.), Angelica Schuyler (Goldsberry), George Washington (Christopher Jackson) and Jefferson (Diggs).
“We knew if we were going to be using the language of hip-hop and rap and R&B and blues, as well as songs that you might hear more traditionally in a Broadway theatre, this had to be a show populated by the women and men who make and made that art form possible,” says Kail. “So this was not colorblind casting in any way. This was intentional. This was also about trying to make the America of then look like the America now and open a conversation and not about lionizing, but about questioning these founders and what they did and looking at their achievements and at their failings. And so if that’s relevant now, five years after Lin put his pen down, then perhaps we can be part of a conversation that is going on.”
“We’re really realizing that white supremacy is upheld by systems,” says Odom, yet another of the show’s Tony winners, who has gone on to star in films like Murder on the Orient Express and Harriet. “The police departments around the country just happened to be the most violent arm of white supremacy, but we have to look at the criminal justice system. We need to look at education. We need to look at economics and how Black people are paid to do the work that they do. And so casting is one thing. But I think we’re having deeper conversations than that all over the country. And that’s long overdue.”
The killing of Floyd and the ongoing struggle for social and racial equality clearly bore heavy on the minds of the cast as they spoke to how the show relates to the dialogue about race in America.
“We could possibly be in a very serious turning point in terms of the narrative of this country, in terms of people demanding for change and justice,” says Okieriete Onaodowan, who plays both Hercules Mulligan and James Madison. “After watching George Floyd murdered for eight minutes and 46 seconds, it made it very real for many people, the systematic racism that is inherent in this nation. And I think the reason why the show is very important right now is because the founding fathers, in order to create this country, they looked at the regime that was governing them and said, ‘Hey, we need change, this isn’t right and we don’t like this.’ And it directly correlates to what protesters are doing right now. There’s a regime that they see and they say, ‘Look, it needs to change.’ And they’re taking their sheets and shouting.”
“If the show can provide any energy to this moment and this movement, then we’re grateful for that as well,” says Miranda. “One of the themes of the show is you can’t control your legacy. You can just do what you do and the world will do with it what it will. And we continue to be surprised by the resonances of the show in the moment as the moment changes.”
— Video produced by Jen Kucsak
Hamilton is available for streaming starting Friday, July 3 on on Disney+.
Watch the trailer:
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