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In Colorizing the Characters in ‘Hamilton,’ Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda Whitewashes History

But he should also make sure we all know Hamilton was no hip-hop hero, just another founding slave holder. Miranda’s color change doesn’t change history, nor make it less distasteful.

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Photo of Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton courtesy of cinemablend

Is there any doubt that Ishmael Reed is Oakland’s writer of conscience and consequence?

He was my teacher in graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. From him I learned a number of truisms about writing. Like, for me, when in doubt, put in the Filipinos. Don’t take them out!  Another one was career advice. The more money you make, the less you get to say. Conversely, the less you make, the more you get to say. And that brings me to the topic of this column.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “In the Heights,” opened the movie version of the musical last week. It’s a gushing hydrant of diversity. It should make a lot of money. But when I talked to him a few weeks back I wanted to talk about his other monster hit, “Hamilton,” where Miranda applied what I call a little affirmative action. He put the Black and the Brown actors in the white parts.

The Founding Fathers got “Hamiltoned.” Revolutionary?

“Well, it’s interesting,” he said. “The idea when I picked up the book was it’s an R&B hip-hop musical so, of course, Black and Brown actors would play those roles. As I’m reading the book the first time, I’m picturing which of my favorite hip-hop artists should play Hercules Mulligan or George Washington. They were always people of color, and the music reflects that…I was sort of more surprised that everyone was surprised when we finally came out.”

“I think it kicks open the door,” he added. “Why are we so literal when it comes to this stuff? And you know, I see Shakespeare with people of every ethnicity playing the roles. Why can’t that be the case with our founders? We know what they look like – they’re on our f***ing money. So, like, let’s move forward here. But I think once you see a show that has had the diversity that we have on stage, it’s very hard to go back to sort of these all-white productions because you’ve got to ask why, what stories aren’t we getting when you see that?”

You still have to ask what you’re getting. Miranda got comfortable enough to cuss and didn’t like the term “affirmative action.” But was he rehabbing Hamilton, making him and the others better than they were by applying the hip-hop beat?

It was the perfect opening to ask a question about Reed, the MacArthur ‘genius’ award-winning novelist, satirist, and playwright who last year wrote  “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda,” a play that takes Miranda to task for the failure to highlight the real history of Hamilton.

Hamilton and his in-laws, the Schuyler family, were slave owners.

Miranda may have given the actors some tone, but the historical soul remains the same. Just obscured. Reed sees Miranda as duped by the Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow, which Miranda used as the main source for his skin-deep musical that glosses over our racist founders.

“I think seducing thousands of children and even the inaugural poet Amanda Gorman into believing that Hamilton and the Schuyler girls were ‘ardent abolitionists,’ must rank as a cultural crime,” Reed said to me.

As I asked Miranda my question about Reed, the PR rep cuts in: “We are actually out of time.”

Then Miranda says, “I got a long schedule, sorry. Thank you.”

It would have been interesting to hear his answer, with “Hamilton” beginning a new tour in August.

But this is megabuck showbiz, and the PR juggernaut must go on.

So, Miranda wiggled his way out. He could have answered. I gave him a shot.

Then again, Miranda’s got this new property to sell that’s a lot more cleansing and joyful. “In the Heights” is the feel-good movie of the post-pandemic, you know. All the fire hydrants are gushing.

But he should also make sure we all know Hamilton was no hip-hop hero, just another founding slave holder. Miranda’s color change doesn’t change history, nor make it less distasteful.

In fact, the 2021 tour for “Hamilton” is coming to San Francisco, Sacramento and San Jose for multiple-week runs in August through October.

Will he come clean by then? Or come up with a new song? In the meantime, you should read Reed’s “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda.”  There’s no music to wash away the truth.

Emil Guillermo is a veteran Bay Area journalist and commentator. He vlogs at www.amok.com Twitter @emilamok

Art

Maestro Michael Morgan Conducts San Francisco Symphony

Morgan was born and raised in Wash., D.C., and is recognized worldwide for innovative and thematically rich programs that make connections between a wide range of artists and musical cultures.

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Maestro Michael Morgan

Maestro Michael Morgan, music director and conductor of the Oakland Symphony, will conduct the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA, Friday, July 23, 2021 at 7:00 p.m.

The program will include the overture to Gioachino Rossini’s opera “La gazza ladra,” along with a playful Pas de Six from “William Tell.” Louise Farrenc’s revelatory Symphony No. 3 from 1847 takes center stage, while the program concludes with James P. Johnson’s Roaring 20s hit, “Charleston.”

“I am thrilled to be helping the San Francisco Symphony share all the wonderful things they do with a wider and more diverse audience’, said Morgan.

Morgan’s ties to the San Francisco Symphony stretch back to 1994, when he first led Concerts for Kids performances.

Morgan was born and raised in Wash., D.C., and is recognized worldwide for innovative and thematically rich programs that make connections between a wide range of artists and musical cultures.

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Art

BIPOC Writers to Showcase Live Readings of New Anthology ‘Essential Truths’

The free, virtual event will begin with an invocation by Berkeley Poet Laureate Rafael Jesús González and will feature 18 BIPOC writers and poets in lively readings and presentations.

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Essential Truths the Bay Area In Color/WriteNow! SF

Oakland Asian Cultural Center in partnership with Write Now! SF Bay will host an East Bay Showcase of its latest anthology “Essential Truths on Thursday, July 22. 

The free, virtual event will begin with an invocation by Berkeley Poet Laureate Rafael Jesús González and will feature 18 BIPOC writers and poets in lively readings and presentations.

Among those performing and reading are: Avotcja, Clara Hsu, Danny Ryu, Darzelle Oliveros, Dianne Leo-Omine, Elmaz Abinader, Kelechi Ubozoh, Karen Seneferu, Kimi Sugioka, Sandra Bass, Shirley Huey, Shizue Seigal, Sridevi Ramanathan, Susana Praver-Pérez, Tiny (aka Lisa Gray-Garcia), Tony Aldorondo, Tureeda Mikell, and Wanda Sabir. 

To register for this event, which begins at 7:00 p.m., visit https://oacc.cc/event/essential-truths-east-bay/. A complete list of Oakland Asian Cultural Center readers’ affiliations can be found here: OACC READERS

Write Now! SF Bay, an organization that has helped 350 writers and artists create with their free and low-cost programs and provided a safe community where BIPOC feel free to express themselves, has published its fourth anthology.

“Essential Truths, The Bay Area in Color,” is its fourth anthology. The collection of 130 Bay Area BIPOC’s poems, musings, and art was edited by Siegal, the founder/director of Write Now! SF Bay.

“Our work is not always polished, but it arises from the lived experience of grappling with real issues of the day,” Siegal said. “We may write in the vernacular or English may be our second or third language. 

“If our rhythms are unfamiliar, ask yourself why—is our work inflected by other tongues and vernaculars, rusty from disuse, scattered by stress or trauma, struggling out silence, or hastily scribbled on borrowed time? 

“Old ways are dissolving, and change is in the air. BIPOC arts and activism have been here all along. Now we are stepping into the light,” Siegal said.

The contributors are Black, Brown, Indigenous, People of Color, and LGBTQ communities along with a few white allies who run the gamut from poet laureates to high school students to college professors and beyond. 

Since 2015, Write Now! SF Bay has been led by and for BIPOC Bay Area writers and builds multicultural solidarity around their unique identities as people of color and reclaim their culture and history, personal and community well-being as well as civil liberties and social justice.

“Essential Truths, The Bay Area in Color” is published is available for purchase at $17.95 by visiting https://www.writenowsf.com/essential-truths

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Activism

Haitian American Artist Brings His Vision, Gift to State’s COVID Campaign

The artworks, created by the Grammy-nominated visual artist Serge Gay Jr, were commissioned to encourage people to continue to take safety precautions against COVID-19 even though the state reopened last month, according to the governor’s office.  

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Serge Gay Jr. at Art Attack mimicking a playboy bunny in one of his paintings. Photo by James Chiang.

California’s “Your Actions Save Lives” art campaign recently unveiled two “Safety First” murals in San Francisco. The artworks, created by the Grammy-nominated visual artist Serge Gay Jr, were commissioned to encourage people to continue to take safety precautions against COVID-19 even though the state reopened last month, according to the governor’s office.
One is located in the Castro and the other in the Tenderloin, — two well-known districts steeped in the Golden Gate City’s famous history of Leftist political organizing and the visibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) people.
The Tenderloin mural, which he dedicates to the city’s transgender community, was inspired by the idea of, “breaking free because during the pandemic, we were all just home and kind of stuck there,” said Gay.  His second artwork is located at 2390 Market St. in the Castro.
The state says the “Your Actions Save Lives” campaign equips Californians with information about what they can do to help stem the spread of COVID-19.  To get the word out, it partnered with The Center at the Sierra Health Foundation and 20 local artists across the state to reach communities that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Gay, he celebrates the Tenderloin for its inclusion of Black and Brown people. The message behind the mural places an emphasis on freedom of movement following the COVID-19 pandemic and encourages the public to get vaccinated, says the artist whose collaboration with film director Matt Stawski clinched him a Grammy nomination for “Best Short Form Video.”
“I wanted to really kind of also showcase our trends visibility,” said Gay.
Gay pays homage to his Haitian roots through his artwork which celebrates various Black communities in the Bay Area — African Americans as well as African and Caribbean immigrants, he explains.

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