Cancel Culture

Approximately Two People Want To #CancelHamilton

Cancel culture is real, but Hamilton is safe.


"America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me," says the titular character in the Broadway musical Hamilton, as he stands seconds away from meeting his demise. The stage is dark and quiet, strewn with purple hews and barely any orchestration as the character delivers what will be his final reflection. "You let me make a difference, a place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up."

That show and its progressive ideas—centered around Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers—have once again come to the forefront of the national discussion after its release last week on the streaming service Disney+. The musical's creators couldn't have picked a more inconvenient time. As conversations swirl around how to honor or not honor those flawed men, I regret to inform you that Hamilton has been canceled.

Or has it?

You might believe so after reading through yesterday's and today's news. "The popular Broadway musical 'Hamilton' is not receiving much love from some people who are calling on Disney's streaming service to 'cancel' the newly released movie version on social media," Newsmax writes. "'Hamilton' is under fire from left-leaning activists," The Daily Wire warns. "The hashtag #CancelHamilton started trending over the weekend, just after a film version of the show aired on Disney+," Inside Edition notes

That hashtag was essentially the sole piece of evidence offered up as proof that woke scolds are coming for Hamilton, pitchforks and torches blazing. But stans of the rap-infused musical can keep singing along with the production at home: A cursory look through Twitter shows that the hysteria is significantly overblown.

Let's start with its genesis. Rosa A. Clemente, a former vice presidential candidate for the Green Party, claims to have conjured the hashtag in a June 28 tweet. She later linked to a petition seeking to pull the movie and declared, "you cannot simultaneously yell or tweet that "#BlackLivesMatter while also singing, dancing and profiting from the celebration of Alexander Hamilton." Clemente's latter tweet received a grand total of 16 likes, and the petition has still not received the requisite 400 signatures. 

Parsing through Twitter will show you that the hashtag took off to a very modest degree. And the limited traction it did gain can be attributed almost entirely to users talking about how senseless #CancelHamilton is.

That's not to say that detractors don't exist. I'm sure a small number of people do agree with Clemente that Hamilton should be thrown in the dustbin of history. And some historians have accused the real Hamilton of being complicit in the slave system, even though he expressed opposition to slavery, never owned any slaves himself, and disputed the idea that blacks were genetically inferior to whites.

But such critics miss the poetic justice in how Lin-Manuel Miranda framed his musical, which revolves around one of the more obscure Founding Fathers. Indeed, who pictures Hamilton as the lead role in the American Revolution?

Miranda did, and it was no accident. The orphan immigrant from the West Indies, the antislavery advocate, is the founder we need for this moment, Miranda implies, a poignant reminder that such underdogs don't always get the bulkiest chapters in the history books. 

It's also notable that Miranda insisted on casting the show almost entirely with actors of color. Seeing a black man portray Thomas Jefferson—someone who owned members of his own family—forces viewers to approach the past in a new way, to see how far the country has come. That subverting of history has allowed a new audience, who may previously have felt alienated by America's birth story, to take part in it. (After opening in 2015, for example, Hamilton is already one of the highest-grossing musicals of all time.)

None of this is lost on Miranda. "If this moment is any indication, we're never done with the past," he told comedian Jimmy Fallon in June, prior to Hamilton's Disney+ release. "We're never done with the sins of the founders. We're never done with the flaws and contradictions of the founding, so it just hits differently depending on where we are."

Where we are right now is a murky place, as those sins and contradictions swell to the forefront of the national dialogue. But audiences can be comforted by the fact that Twitter is not real life. When it comes to Hamilton's immediate future, it appears it will live to see another day.