Ahead if its Disney+ debut, the Hamilton musical is getting calling out for glossing over Alexander Hamilton's controversial, slave-owning past. Historian Annette Gordon-Reed recently spoke out and stated that, while she is a fan of the musical, she feels that people need to understand that "a Broadway show is not a documentary." She added that she believes "artists have the right to create," but she also feels that "historians have the right to critique," per The Harvard Gazette.
Gordon-Reed is a history professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, and holds the Charles Warren Professorship of American Legal History at Harvard Law School and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professorship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. While speaking about Hamilton at a student-sponsored event, she clarified for the attendees that, "in the sense of the Ellis Island immigrant narrative," Alexander Hamilton "was not an immigrant," and "was not pro-immigrant, either." She went on to say, "He was not an abolitionist. He bought and sold slaves for his in-laws, and opposing slavery was never at the forefront of his agenda."
Gordon-Reed stated that Hamilton "was not a champion of the little guy, like the show portrays. He was elitist. He was in favor of having a president for life." She feels that "the Hamilton on the stage is more palatable and attractive to modern audiences" because it creates a more simplified version of the true history.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author doesn't just take issue with Hamilton's depiction in the show, she also cites other historical figures who are not show as they truly were. "In the musical, only Jefferson is shown as a slave holder," she said. "But Madison owned slaves too, and so did George Washington." She praised the musical for using a multiethnic cast to play the roles of the slave-owning Founding Fathers, but added that the play offers its fans a different version of the complicated narrative that historians have been trying to teach for the past several decades. "It's not a purely heroic narrative," she said. "It's not just celebration. The Founders accepted slavery as an institution."
Regardless of the potentially problematic representation of the Founding Fathers, Gordon-Reed stated that she finds the show's creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, to be a "genius." She added that she hopes Hamilton's popularity will spark more people to take a deeper and more serious look at what history actually tells us about our past. Hamilton comes to Disney+ on July 3.