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Watch: Lin-Manuel Miranda & The ‘Hamilton’ Cast Speak On The Musical’s Significance In Today’s Fight For Social Justice
Independence Day is about to hit different. As America takes part in another 3-day holiday weekend filled with socially distanced cookouts and quarantined binge-watching sessions, family and friends can finally see Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda's groundbreaking musical, on the small screen. Alas, that subtle, 5-year feeling of envy felt by those of us who missed the opportunity to see the original cast at a sold-out showing can finally be let go. Thanks to streaming platform Disney Plus, musical theatre enthusiasts and followers of the Broadway production will now be able to relive the cultural phenomenon that debuted on January 20, 2015, after it went on to win nearly a dozen Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize of Drama, and a Grammy.
With the ongoing protests around the murderous killing of George Floyd, the unwavering #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the exposing spotlight on the systemic racism that has plagued America for centuries, Hamilton's film premiere couldn't arrive at a better time. There's a melting pot of actors, rappers, and singers of color telling the stories of figures in American history through the lens of hip-hop, R&B, and popular music. But what brings all of this full circle is the irony of how monuments dedicated to many of America's forefathers (and slave owners) are now being torn down in protest.
"Listen, I didn't care about these people either. I was not a history fan prior to reading Hamilton's book," shared Miranda—the filmed musical's protagonist Alexander Hamilton and producer behind its book, music, and lyrics—in an interview with VIBE during an on-camera interview. "All I knew about him was he was the white guy on the 10 and he died in a duel. And then I picked up this history book and my way in was that he grew up in the Caribbean and he came from somewhere else. And so, that was my way into the story. And I think that if you tell it that way, you see it through a kind of different lens. It's not an accident that we have Black and brown bodies playing these founders."
"And clearly, in this moment where we exist, it feels like if this show can give energy and momentum to the movement, then the show is serving the moment. And that's all that we can do..." adds Hamilton's director and producer, Thomas Kail. "Our hope is," he continues, "by putting it on Disney Plus where tens of millions of people can see it in one day, that maybe we're doing some kind of service towards that and just trying to participate and contribute."
Ahead of the Broadway play's cinematic debut, VIBE correspondent Jazzie Belle not only sat Miranda and Kali, but also members of the illustrious cast: Daveed Diggs (who plays Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson), Renée Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler), Christopher Jackson (George Washington), Jasmine Cephas Jones (Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds), and Leslie Odom, Jr. (Aaron Burr). They talked hip-hop, today's climate around civil rights, and who they'd create a musical around if given the opportunity.Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail
On the decision to have the musical's characters inspired by hip-hop/R&B artists of past and present:
Miranda: My goal with it was I wanted to have as big a tent in terms of the casting as possible. I wanted people who had never auditioned for a musical to audition. I wanted musical folks who loved hip hop but had never been able to bring that, to come in. So, every character description was a half a musical theatre reference and half a hip hop reference. I think George Washington was a Mufasa meets ...
Kail: John Legend.
Miranda: Oh, John legend. Yeah. And Angelica's character was Desiree Armfeldt, who's the smartest character in Little Light Music meets Nicki Minaj because she's just got the fastest raps in the show and the hardest raps in the show. And it was the intelligence. That's the secret about Angelica. She's smarter than Alexander, she's smarter than Jefferson, but because she is a woman in this time, she only gets to exercise it in a few ways. And so, that was the thinking behind each of the characters. I'm trying to think of some of the other ones. King George was like Rufus Wainwright meets King Herod from Jesus Christ Superstar. I can't remember, but the fun of it was this mashup of a musical theatre character and a hip hop artist. And in contradiction, figuring out what actors would do with that.
It's Mobb Deep, it's [Big] Pun, it's Biggie, it's very East Coast '90s. There's even a little sneaky Brand Nubian in there. It's just sort of—
Kail: Wait, and Hercules Mulligan was Busta Rhymes. So, when Busta Rhymes raps or Hercules Mulligan raps in the mixtape, it was beyond anything you could comprehend.Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jasmine Cephas Jones and Leslie Odom, Jr.
On the "Dear White American Theater" open letter and the tough conversations around systemic racism within the musical theatre industry:
Odom, Jr.: There are two important talks that are happening. There's the talk that we're having with our white brothers and sisters, our white colleagues and peers, and then there's the talk that we're having amongst each other that sometimes we have never spoken about, about trauma. What everybody's asking themselves right now, what I think the most important questions are...white supremacy is upheld by systems. And so, it's like am I actively upholding the system? Do I have hiring power? Am I actively upholding the system, or am I being used to actively uphold this system?
And that's what that letter is about. It was crafted to this industry that we love so much, and we're saying to them, "Are you being used?" It's going to take work to dismantle this thing. I'll say this. Don't wait. If you love and care for Black people, don't wait for us to get murdered by the police to care about our Black lives. Don't wait for me to get murdered by the cops. Care about my Black life right now. That's what we talking about.
On the women rappers/singers they pulled inspiration from when preparing for their roles:
Goldsberry: I actually studied female rappers my whole life...It's one of those things you never know, when you're kind of feeding your soul with things, what you're preparing yourself for. We [Jasmine and I] almost had the opportunity to do a big tribute to Salt-N-Pepa. We were going to do "Shoop."
What we love... It also mirrors Hamilton. This is a show about a group of men fighting for something, and what our hip-hop queens represent is, in this seemingly very male world, the power of women. They're standing there saying, "I'm here, and I own this, too." They [Salt N Pepa, MC Lyte, etc] were my model way before anybody asked me to play Angelica Schuyler.
Jones: For me, I didn't rap that much at all in this, but what I loved about my number in "Say No to This," it was a huge ode to an R&B ballad. The fact that even Jill Scott sang "Say No to This" on the mixtape was like...I've seen Jill Scott like five times. You know what I mean? I love Jill Scott so much, so it's just full circle for me, even the fact that she was able to do that on the mixtape. And that's who also influenced me as an R&B singer.
On the significance of seeing Hamilton today as Black and brown people fighting for racial equality in America:
Jones: It's about inspiring, and it's about seeing diversity on stage. It's about going out, getting people to vote to make a change. If you can't feel like you can't do it yourself, then go out and reach out to your friends and come together. There are layers to this show. And as Leslie said, it's the beginning of a conversation. Have it open the conversation, and let's continue to talk about it.
Odom, Jr: The premiere on Disney Plus, we hope—in the same way that I felt before the show opened off-Broadway—was the beginning of a conversation. It's the beginning of critique. There can be an honest critique of the work. There's a lot of love and hard work that went into it, but it can be looked at with new eyes and picked apart if somebody wanted to. Again, I hope it's the beginning of a conversation. I leave it to other people to sell stuff, but I think that the show is about them, but it is also so clearly about us, and you feel that when you watch it. It's about Thomas Jefferson, but it's about Daveed. It's about Alexander Hamilton, but it's about Lin, and so that's worthy of your time.
Goldsberry: This is a show about this ragtag group of people that were the voices of a revolution, and they won. We won, we won, we won, we won, right? We are in a revolution right now, and we need to win it. The risk that these people took is an example and actually reflects the risks that people are taking right now. Not to mention, don't get it twisted. This is not a country that was made by others. This was a country that was made by our people, too. And seeing people that look like you play it is the first step in acknowledging that. I think that's really hugely important.
Don't write off your history because of the pictures that they put up and showed you to tell... It's the same thing like, how do you deal with your spirituality? Because of the picture somebody showed you of Jesus? No, you claim that. You claim that, and you should claim this country. You should claim that, too. We would hope that the work that's been done in the show breaks down some of those barriers and that people look with new eyes.Daveed Diggs and Christopher Jackson
On how he wasn't initially sold on the idea of Hamilton:
Diggs: It was Tommy [Kali] who told me what Lin was cooking up, and I told him it was a terrible idea. I stand by that, by the way. (Smizes) It was a terrible idea...The second that he sent me the sort of demos, which are not great. They're nothing like what we have now, but it was so clear that it was going to be amazing. The fact that it is a terrible idea has nothing to do with it being a great show. And as soon as he sent me the music, I was like, "This is a great show and I really, really want to be a part of it." It's still a bad idea. If you pitched me that idea today, I would tell you it's a bad idea.
On how his love for hip-hop began in his entertainment career:
Jackson: I grew up in Southern Illinois, right? My family, we didn't have cable and we didn't have what would be known as urban radio. We didn't have Black radio back there. Any of my friends, anytime they would go visit family in Chicago or St. Louis, we would all rush over to their house with blank tapes so that they could then record the mix shows on a loop and bring back whatever we could get. I remember running through the house singing Run DMC and "Roxanne, Roxanne" just had my mind. I had no idea what this was, but I was like, "Ahhh." I used to get in trouble for rapping at the dinner table because back then, you didn't sing or do anything at the dinner table. But I'm 44 years old. Hip-hop has been a presence in my entire life. Just as pop music has and just as Michael Jackson and any country artist because I'm from the South. It's just the amalgamation of all of these different musical things, which is why Lin and I get down so well because he's constantly mining for that kind of stuff in his work. I found that I have a little reservoir that I always get to pull from when we do stuff together.
On how Hamilton should be interpreted in light of America's forefathers' monuments being torn down today:
Diggs: I think we have to accept the fact that there are sides of the people that we have considered heroes for a long time that don't deserve to have monuments about them, that those monuments don't serve us. I don't think that is a reason to not learn about them. I think it's actually an argument to learn about them in their totality and struggle with the idea of what is useful about the things that a dude like Thomas Jefferson came up with or penned what is instructive about them. And what about him do we disagree with? He was a human being. You know what I'm saying? I think the same argument is true of watching the show.
Jackson: Hamilton shouldn't be confused with hero-worship. It shouldn't be confused with the type of veneration that historically, we viewed a history through that lens and that's not what we're doing. I think that one of the many statements that are made happen to be about the fact that we're bringing these men and women down off of pedestals, we're looking at them in their most trifling states. The founding of this country was always aspirational and was always meant to not live up to it because the men that were actually in charge at that point were not capable of being their greatest selves in regard to the way that we view this now. But slaves back then, sure enough, didn't see any greatness in them.
Interview's music bed provided by Gus.
Mahershala Ali’s will be gearing up for his dream role. The Oscar-winner is set to portray boxer, Jack Johnson, in an upcoming limited series on HBO.
According to Deadline, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman are behind the six-part series titled, Unruly. The film is based off the book and PBS documentary, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.
Unruly is described as an “unapologetically Black, no-holds bar” depiction of Johnson’s rise and fall. Ali previously portrayed Johnson in the 2000 boxing film, The Great White Hype.
Nicknamed the “Galveston Giant," Johnson became the first Black boxer to win the world heavyweight title, paving the way for the likes of Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and more.
In 1913, he was convicted of violating the Man Act for allegedly picking up prostitutes. Despite the fact that Johnson's committed the offense before the Act went into effect, he was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to a year in prison but he skipped bail and fled to Canada with his girlfriend, Lucille Cameron. Johnson remained in exile in Canada and later in Europe, Mexico and South America before returning to the U.S. in 1920 and serving out his one-year sentence. He died in a car accident in 1946.
Johnson received a posthumous presidential pardon in 2019.
Kendrick Sampson And Channing Godfrey Peoples Talk 'Miss Juneteenth,' Black Love's Portrayal And More
As many organizations and people around the county celebrate the 155th anniversary of the remaining Black slaves' freedom, Queen Sugar writer and director Channing Godfrey Peoples delivers a new drama film, Miss Juneteenth.
Starring Little Fires Everywhere star Nicole Beharie (as Turquoise) and Insecure fan-favorite Kendrick Sampson (as Ronnie), the feature film follows Turquoise, a former beauty queen and hard-working single mother named who strives to encourage her teenage daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) to take part in the annual Miss Juneteenth pageant while navigating love and loss.
Ahead of the film's debut, VIBE correspondent and host Jazzie Belle sat down with Peoples and Sampson—who are also Texas natives—to discuss how the film beautifully paints the characters' love story, what the celebration of Juneteenth truly means to them and the Black community, and what they hope viewers take away from the insightful and relatable film, especially in today's fight against institutionalized racism.
"My hope is that this story will be amplified because it's another Black story about the humanity of Black folks," said Peoples. "And then it will open doors for more human stories about Black folks to be told."
"I love our culture. I love the way we sound. I love the inflections that we have. I love our accents and how they're different than white folks," added Sampson. "We have to think really about what that [Juneteenth] pageant means and what we are exemplifying within that pageant. And what Juneteenth actually means, and if those are cohesive. What are we fighting for in liberation?"
Watch the full interview between Jazzie, Kendrick, and Channing above. Also, see excerpts from their conversation below. Vertical Entertainment's Miss Juneteenth is now streamable on-demand i.e. Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime, FandangoNow.
On what Juneteenth means to them
Kendrick Sampson: Juneteenth is a reminder that when we fight, we win. We have to take on abolition as a framework for activism that if one person is in bondage, we all are in bondage. It wasn't ever about the person who signed the Emancipation Proclamation. No oppressor ever just benevolently gave us something because they woke up one day and said, "All right. We're going to give y'all back y'all freedom." It was hard fought for like hardcore radical people that were willing to put their bodies on the line and not just allies, but accomplices.
I grew up knowing July 4th, Independence Day, was bullsh*t because our people weren't independent. What independence were we celebrating? And so Juneteenth is my favorite and it's got a lot more flavor and culture.
Channing Godfrey Peoples: It [Juneteenth] was a fabric of growing up. Is was a fabric of my childhood...For me, commemorating Juneteenth was always about acknowledging our ancestors who Kendrick's talked about who were slaves in Texas getting their freedom late. And Kendrick talked about the themes in the film. And I think I really wanted to portray thematically that Turquoise is on this journey finding her own sense of freedom, by coming to terms with her own past later in life.
On the inspiration behind playing Ronnie
Sampson: I understood who Ronnie was and I thought it would be an honor to portray a Black man from Texas that was different than Nathan because Nathan is from Houston on Insecure. And, that was an honor, especially dealing with mental health issues and such, which I'm hugely passionate about. But just all of us have trauma. I know Ronnie, I got brothers that are Ronnie. And I wanted to honor Ronnie. I wanted to have the chance to show that nuance. I wanted to show that the humanity in it is that, again, you can't be a Black man person, trans, woman, sister, whatever, cannot be Black in America without experiencing a level of trauma and having generational trauma inform how you operate.
On the portrayal of Black love on-screen
Peoples: I think one of the things that I love about Turquoise and Ronnie's relationship is the thing that they have in common. You can feel their history, you can also feel their baggage, but what they have in common is their love for their daughter. And you're seeing them act that out as parents in different ways. Like another question I was always asking was how did these characters parent, and that was driving the decisions for the film. How does Turquoise parent? How does Ronnie parent? And at different moments...you're seeing the yin and yang of that, the positive and negative of both. Both are just trying to love this child.