Fans of the original Tony-sweeping Broadway show "Hamilton" took to social media to reminisce and celebrate the release of a new film version on Walt Disney's nascent streaming service, just in time for Independence Day. It was also an occasion for others, including star Daveed Diggs, to recast the holiday in light of Black Lives Matter and to reexamine Alexander Hamilton's real-life legacy.
The release on Disney+ in the early hours of Friday culminated years of anticipation by fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda's blockbuster musical. Stars of stage and screen shared their first experiences of the live performance, which many had seen multiple times. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney had shifted from an October 2021 theatrical release to an online drop on the eve of the holiday weekend.
Happy Hamilton Day!!! I wish I could see it AGAIN for the first time. What an amazing experience? Congrats to @Lin_Manuel, Tommy Kail, @LacketyLac and the cast of @HamiltonMusical. The world is watching!! You changed the game. #Hamilfilm #HamiltonFilm— jimmy fallon (@jimmyfallon) July 3, 2020
"Happy Hamilton Day!!!" tweeted comedian and late night host Jimmy Fallon. "I wish I could see it AGAIN for the first time."
The release over the July 4 weekend captured many families and musical fans' attention as the movie made its debut online. Its drastically accelerated release highlights how the entertainment world has been upended by the COVID-19 crisis — particularly as all “Hamilton” productions worldwide, along with countless other theater venues, have gone dark to curb the spread of coronavirus.
#HamiltonFilm a thread. The first time I saw #Hamilton on stage at the #PublicTheater I knew absolutely nothing about what I was in for. My college classmate @leslieodomjr had told me briefly over the years that he was working on something with @Lin_Manuel that was unlike— Josh Gad (@joshgad) July 2, 2020
The release also re-ignited a conversation on social media about whether the musical unduly glamorizes the life of Alexander Hamilton, who was complicit in the trade of enslaved people. "Selma" director Ava DuVernay highlighted the issue but praised the production.
Slavery is not central, for sure. But he didn’t deny or ignore it either. He made his choices about it. I greatly enjoyed the work and was wildly curious after watching. I wouldn’t have studied any of those “founders” like I did if it wasn’t for #Hamilton and @Lin_Manuel. https://t.co/sBwBQYUi1s— Ava DuVernay (@ava) July 3, 2020
The movie was also marked by the release online of a video by the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of civil-rights activist groups, featuring "Hamilton" costar Diggs. The rapper and actor narrates a new piece, "What to My People is the Fourth of July?", inspired by Frederick Douglass’ historic speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
Written by a collective of award-winning Black writers including W. Kamau Bell and Safia Elhillo, the video questions the ideals of freedom celebrated on July 4 in a still-unjust society, juxtaposed against images of police brutality and the historic and ongoing fight for civil rights.
honored to work on this w some of my favorite writers for @Mvmnt4BlkLives, narrated by @DaveedDiggs, as we are asked to celebrate this nation’s independence day, its freedom, as we are faced w the irony & cruelty as Black people who have not gotten to partake in that freedom pic.twitter.com/WSUoWfRLSC— Safia Elhillo (@mafiasafia) July 2, 2020
Diggs won both a Tony and Grammy for his portrayal of both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in the hip-hop musical.
"Hamilton" earned a record-setting 16 Tony nominations in 2016 and set a record for the highest average ticket on Broadway. Fans will now be able to watch and rewatch the filmed performance, staged at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City and featuring the original Broadway cast, as many times as they like as part of a $7 monthly streaming subscription. With music and lyrics by Miranda, who starred in the original production, it made its Broadway debut in 2015.
Filmed over two June 2016 performances directed (for stage and screen) by Thomas Kail, the musical's plot is essentially the origin story of the United States of America and covers well-known historical events involving Hamilton — victory in the Revolutionary War, the establishment of the U.S. Treasury and the creation of the Federalist Papers. The Founding Fathers are played by Black and brown actors, members of communities who don’t see themselves reflected often enough either in American history or on Broadway stages.
Miranda described "Hamilton" as the “story about America then, as told by America now.”