Because of the recent influx of protests by galvanized audiences aimed at tearing down harmful historical figures like Christopher Columbus and Robert E. Lee, I ended up discovering and attending an online showing by the Nuyorican Poets Cafe of Ishmael Reed's "The Haunting of Lin Manuel Miranda"—a rightfully scornful play that criticizes Lin Manuel Miranda's overly flattering depiction of our slave-owning founders. As I settled comfortably in my bed to watch the YouTube Live showing, I found myself jarred when I juxtaposed the three thousand individuals watching the live stream with the 513,323 individuals that downloaded Disney+ when "Hamilton" was released approximately one week prior.
In a play centered around slaveholders, it's appalling that Miranda's "Hamilton" completely overlooked the topic of slavery and yet still managed to become an acclaimed masterpiece. This topic, while ignored by Miranda in "Hamilton", is immediately confronted in "The Haunting"and is used to deconstruct the false glorification that stems from the incomplete historical account seen in "Hamilton".
Through the visitation of figures in "The Haunting" like Harriet Tubman, white indentured servants, enslaved Africans, Native Americans, and runaways from the Schuyler plantations, Lin Manuel Miranda (Jesse Bueno)—who is under the influence of Ambien—is forced to confront and grapple with the harmful effects the erasure of these figures has. As a stark contrast to the otherwise lively music saturating Miranda's "Hamilton", Reed's "The Haunting" relies upon didactic lectures ridden with solemn reminders in order to educate both Miranda and the audience.
What I found most surprising by watching this play—and what more people should be cognizant of—was the absolute lack of research that went into creating "Hamilton". Throughout "The Haunting", Miranda is found consistently clinging to one simple defense: historian Ron Chernow's 800-page Hamilton biography. Rather than absolutely vilifying Miranda (though Reed has every right to), the play depicts Miranda as a victim to an inaccurate historical account—a perspective he chose not to question when drafting "Hamilton". On the contrary, "The Haunting" is imbued with valid critiques by a multitude of historians (instead of relying on one simple account) and accurately reports on Hamilton's hypocrisy, such as him marrying into the slave-owning Schuyler family and even obtaining slaves for said family.
So, should we continue to support Miranda's "Hamilton"? I'm not here to preach at you—that is a decision best made after evaluating what it is that you value. Similar arguments about whether it is or isn't possible to disentangle the art from the artist occur when discussing Chris Brown and his long history of abuse. However, what I do believe is that "The Haunting" deserves the same amount of attention and acclaim "Hamilton" received.
In various high schools throughout the nation, excursions are funded for students to watch "Hamilton" on Broadway. However, I have never witnessed this amount of effort being channeled towards speaking up about the historical erasure perpetuated by "Hamilton". Like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns in her TED Talk about the power of stories, it's extremely dangerous to rely solely upon a single story. Because of this, "Hamilton" fans have an inherent obligation to explore and understand this side of history that Miranda intentionally excluded. A great way to start is by pre-ordering Reed's script of "The Haunting", which is expected to be released on September 14.