Tonight I listened to the Hamilton Soundtrack for the first time in almost a year. It has been ruined for me by two awful people. The memories of us jamming out to it were so powerful that any time it came to mind I hurt with anxiety. But tonight I gave it a shot again and it’s as joyful and perfect as I remembered. It also got me thinking about a different memory related to the show that I feel like writing about.
The memory was a friend and mentor of mine walking with me to a talk on campus. We were professing our love for the show, it’s cleverness, it’s complexity, it’s deep knowledge of American musical and political history. Eventually, the question of race came up for some reason. I say it that way because of course the conversation has touched on race before, but here it was regarding the ethics of casting a play with this race bending. It was likely that I was referring to a conversation I had with my father on the subject. He seemed incapable of seeing any of the political or artistic reasonings for the choice. To him, they were white in reality so how is it right to cast them otherwise; you wouldn’t do cast a white guy as Martin Luther King Jr. I tried every explanation I knew but nothing ever worked.
When this came up with my friend I think I expressed my reservations about how the play could work as a film. I was saying the play is so theatrically specific, so good at being theatre in the highest sense, that it wouldn’t work well on film. The verisimilitude would never hold the unreality of the concept. A film audience will see these black people in roles they remember should be white and reject the film’s world.
The thought I had on my walk tonight was that I missed something, something strange and overwhelming in this question. Why is it any more jarring to see black people in those rolls than to see white actors rapping in those roles? Do I really believe that the former is harder than the latter for people to believe? No, not at all. And this gave me hope for a cinematic adaptation. The idea of white actors in those roles is so jarring that an enticing possibility for the actual adaptation springs to mind.
With a great filmmaker behind the camera you can see some really Nolan-esque propulsion driving the audience through the world elegantly, making moments of conflict debilitatingly intense. Some of the songs seem perfectly suited to larger productions. I still think the adaptation will be messy, but if done right it could be absolutely amazing.