Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hamilton and the Cultural Pie Chart

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 1:45 PM

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The word "Hamilton" seems inescapable right now, doesn't it?

In case you've somehow missed out on one of the most culturally important pieces of art in the past 25 years, Hamilton is a musical about American founding father Alexander Hamilton where his life is told through hip-hop and contemporary R&B songs and the cast is almost entirely made up of Black and Latino actors.

It's the story of what America was, played by a cast of how America looks now. It's a truly brilliant concept, especially the use of rap and hip-hop as their musical template.

At this year's Tony Awards, Hamilton was up for a record-setting 16 nominations, ultimately winning 11, including Best Musical. As the Tony Awards went on I noticed conversations between friends via social media, including one that really had me thinking of the concept I like to call the "Cultural Pie Chart."

My friends in this conversation were discussing a dream world where Hamilton would break open Broadway to a new variety of culturally diverse productions and more roles for minorities. Of course, this is a wonderful thought to have, but from my perspective, it's a pipe dream.

The importance of Hamilton cannot be understated — but it only shines a light on the lack of color on Broadway and in entertainment media in general. The issue remains that as long as there is a pocket of diversity somewhere, minorities will be told to be happy with what they get; our cut of the cultural pie is rather slim when you break it down like that.

You can look at the world of entertainment and say with Hamilton changing Broadway, Beyonce ruling pop music and Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, Jane the Virgin and The Mindy Project changing the rules of TV comedy with minority and female perspectives, is this not a golden age of diversity in entertainment? Are we not in a better place of representation than we were 25 years ago?

On one hand, things are getting a little better, but all we have to do is look back on the Oscars this year and see their long-standing troubles with nominating films that are focused on race or are of a culturally diverse background to notice all the problems we have. Historically we can see that white middle- and upper-class men have largely made up the media industry, and media content has largely reflected their perspective on the world.

It makes sense: What other world would they want to see? Of course, entertainment and news media do not reflect the diversity of the real world we live in.

We live in a world that is defined by what the media puts forward. All you have to do is read or watch anything about the current election season to know that. But we also live in a world where the minority population is on the rise and the number of interracial marriages is growing, as are the amount of minority and mixed-race children in the United States. With all this change, why should we have to look at the world of art and entertainment through a white upper-class male lens? It can feel like there are only two slices that make up the cultural pie in America, one slice that belongs to white heterosexual males and the other slice is for EVERYONE ELSE.

True diversity has to extend to the story and characters, not just the actors involved. The concept behind Hamilton is to show historical figures we have known to be white that are now being portrayed by minorities. This is fantastic, but to truly shift the cultural pie we need to see roles that are actually written about a diversity of backgrounds and the experiences that come with that — be it Latino people, Indian people, lesbian people or transgender people.

Diverse casting is a necessary step in the process of changing entertainment and how it reflects the world we live in, while focusing on telling diverse stories. The exposure that Hamilton has right now is amazing and I can only hope that the next brilliant storytelling involving a cast of ethnically diverse backgrounds will garner the same accolades. Seeing the actual world we live in through media and entertainment will only start to bring us closer as a community and foster connection and understanding on a deeper level.

Let's not sit back and only enjoy a piece of the pie. Let's take the whole damn thing for once.

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Richard Arredondo

Richard Arredondo

"A lot of people love negative news more than positive news, part of the reason that I'm as a journalist is to spin that around. Growing up in the melting pot that is the Bay area of California, I’ve learned the value of cultural appreciation and I love to put a spotlight on all walks of life in my curious journey... more

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