I forgot “Hamilton” was airing on Disney Plus tonight.
In my defence, I don’t follow musical theater much and I’m not overly familiar with the music from “Hamilton.” I have been curious to see it, and had planned to nab tickets when it came to the Kennedy Center in September.
Thanks to the coronavirus, that’s been postponed (coronavirus, you beeyatch!).
But back to my forgetfulness.
Tonight, in addition to forgetting I had a skype date with some girlfriends, I also forgot about the airing of “Hamilton.” In fact, instead of watching “Hamilton,” I was watching “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” starring Errol Flynn.
If that doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because this version of the legend came out in 1938.
Yes, 1938. Yes, I am an old woman.
An old white woman.
I once read that in antebellum America, the most popular novel in the northern states was Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It was a huge bestseller, and some argue its publication precipitated the conflict that became the Civil War.
In this same source (which I cannot currently remember, sorry!) I read that the most popular novel in the antebellum south was Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an anti-slavery novel, written by a black woman, which depicts the horrors of slavery and is the source of the name Jim Crow (as in racist Jim Crow laws).
Ivanhoe is a romance, set in medieval England, in which a Saxon knight fights for the liberation of Norman Richard the Lionheart, king of England, from captivity in Austria. It’s full of battles, witch trials, forbidden love, and features our friend Robin of Loxley (AKA Robin Hood).
I Grew Up with “Ivanhoe”
As a child, we had the 1952 film version on VHS. It starred Robert Taylor, Joan Fontaine and Elizabeth Taylor. It was romantic. It was glamorous and adventurous.
I watched it over and over again.
I have never seen a film version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (probably because there hasn’t been a Hollywood production of it since the silent film era, when white actors in blackface played the leading characters and danced in almost every scene).
I have never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Nor, in fact, have I read many novels by authors of color. I’ve read some hispanic authors, south Asian and middle eastern authors. But I’ve never read anything written by a black American author.
Is this racist?
By reading predominantly novels written by white men and women, I am devaluing literature by people of color. I am also missing out on a large part of what reading is supposed to do for you: opening your eyes to different experiences.
What does this have to do with “Hamilton” and “Robin Hood”?
Just the fact that I forgot about the airing of “Hamilton” because I was watching an old movie starring nothing but white actors shows how well entrenched I am in my white world.
I’m not trying to draw parallels between “Hamilton” and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or even to belittle the quality of “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (it’s a fun, swashbuckling adventure!).
I’m just musing on how the choices we make (like which films to watch and which books to read) can keep us in our little white bubbles.
What To Do?
Branch out. That’s what I’m trying to do.
The book Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad has been helpful in opening my eyes to the extent of my own complicity in racism.
I recommend it as a starting place for anyone who really wants to know how we are complicit, and how to break the cycle.