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Interview with Danielle Bainbridge

Catherine Nelli

Danielle Bainbridge is a professor of theater, African American Studies, and Performance Studies at Northwestern University. Her background is in theater, English, African American Studies, and American Studies. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania in 2012 in English and theater and completed her PhD in African American Studies and American Studies—cultural history—in 2018 from Yale.

Interview has been edited for clarity.

JPPE: I’ll start by asking you to introduce yourself, your background, and your research, as well as the questions you find most interesting or important to explore at the moment.

Bainbridge: Right now, my most important questions or areas of inquiry are thinking about the intersections of race, disability, gender, sexuality—like, how do we perform difference on stage? As well as thinking about the important role than performance and theatre and art have played in the establishment of new nations or nationalism.

To that end, I’m working on two projects. The first one is called Refinements of Cruelty, and I’m collaborating with NYU press at the moment hopefully to place the book there. The book is about 19th and early 20th century sideshow and freak show performers who were born with physical disabilities and also born into slavery, and the process through which they were doubly subjected to systems of oppression, both as disabled people and also as enslaved Black people. So that book is my primary project.

My secondary project is a general history book that’s called How to Make a New Nation. It’s about the performances of nationalism in early postcolonial nation-states. So I’m curious about how things like the professionalization of the Olympics, early TV politics, radio broadcasts, who gets put on the money, and the building of monuments. How these performative objects were used to establish the idea of nation and to recognize nation on an international scale. So those are the kind of questions that I’m thinking about right now.

JPPE: Our journal is focused on interdisciplinary scholarship, and I know that what you do is very interdisciplinary as well. I’m curious how your work has benefited from interdisciplinary practices.

Bainbridge: My background in every phase of my academic career has been very interdisciplinary. As a double major in college, I was always thinking of the intersections of history, literary analysis, theatrical history, theatrical performance studies, and performance practice. That was where I started to ask these questions and when I was introduced to scholars who were also thinking through that critical lens. And then when I went to graduate school, I was in an interdisciplinary PhD program because African American Studies is a field that encompasses lots of other disciplines. So you think through political science, anthropology, sociology, and history, and you’re thinking about all of these questions at the same time. And American Studies was similarly oriented, even though it was a degree that really focused on cultural history. So, I think that interdisciplinary work became really interesting to me at an early phase of my career. When I was an undergrad, I didn’t think of it as a career, I just thought of it as college. But by the time I started thinking about wanting to be a professor and wanting to teach at the undergraduate and graduate level, I was really curious about how I can bring different kinds of media and different kinds of inquiry in different fields together.

Some of that was also influenced by the fact that I’m a practitioner—I’m an artist. I do creative scholarship, digital media work, and digital storytelling like my PBS series Origin of Everything. I have also done some docuseries work with Youtubers and PBS. And I’m currently working on a couple different shows, like some of the Crash Course series through Complexly, which is a company that focuses on making educational media for young people. Right now, I’m really invested in how scholarship can be brought to larger audiences outside of the academy through digital media in a democratic way, where it’s not necessarily about how much you can afford but more about your natural curiosity and desire to learn.

I am also a writer. I write for theater, and I’m working on my first documentary that just got funded. I’m always trying to look for new ways to interpret information and translate it for different audiences.

It’s appealing to me to think about interdisciplinary work as something that combines disparate fields. I think that sometimes, when we say interdisciplinary, we mean fields that are adjacent to each other, that are touching. But for me, combining theater, digital media, performance, documentary, and mashing these things together makes me excited because it stretches me as a scholar to think about the ways that I could actually benefit people and the way that my work travels through the world. Sometimes when you think in strict disciplinary lines, your work has a narrower reach. And I’m really interested in how I can reach people. I really want them to learn and be excited about the things I present, so I’m always looking for interdisciplinary ways to bring stuff to new audiences.

JPPE: What’s the relationship between the scholar and the artist, and what’s the importance of that relationship?

Bainbridge: It wasn’t always the smoothest transition. When you enter a Ph.D. program, you’re really there to commit to doing book-length and article-length research. That’s the discipline; that’s what’s expected of you. And I think it’s really important stuff, I mean, I wouldn’t be able to do any of the public-facing work I do if folks weren’t writing books and articles about it because I’m not an expert in everything that I make videos about. And I think that at the heart of our fields, book projects and articles are really the foundation. But I think because I had a background in theater and then went to grad school for more cultural history and African American Studies, it became important to me to continue to express myself.

I always say that the difference for me between being an artist and a scholar is that I try to let every project express itself as what it wants to be. If I have an idea for something and I think, “This would be a really fun script,” or, “This really wants to be an essay,” or “This really needs to be in my book,” I try to make those decisions very consciously, about what’s the best way for this information to be shared with a larger audience and what does this piece of information demand of me as a maker, as a creator. There are plenty of things that I think, “Oh, this would make a great 12-minute online video, really punchy, good graphics, and people will be into the question,” and that’s a good primer for folks who are thinking about gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, international politics, or whatever. Sometimes I have ideas like that, and then sometimes I have ideas like my documentary that I think, “Oh, this really demands a longer look and a more intense focus.” So it all depends on what the archive and that object I’m studying or the subject I’m studying demands, and how best to translate that for people to learn from it.

JPPE: What is the subject of your documentary?

Bainbridge: I am working on a documentary right now called Curio. In 2018, I was Artist in Residence and also a facilitator and writer of a piece called Curio: A Cabinet of Curiosity, which was based on the research for my book Refinements of Cruelty. It is focusing specifically on the lives of Millie and Christine McKoy who were two conjoined twins born in 1851 in North Carolina, who were touring the world and became international celebrities as freak show performers. So, they would sing and dance and there was also a heavy amount of exploitation and medicalization in their archive. The McKoy twins were who I started researching in grad school when I decided to work on freakshows and the intersections of slavery and disability. So, I am really intimately acquainted with their archive, and I made this performance piece out of it that a group of undergraduate students at the University of Pennsylvania staged. I loved working with those students, I think that they were really game to do a lot of weird stuff with me. I had them learning the handbell, I had them singing songs from the 19th century, they were tied together in a conjoined dress, and they were doing all sorts of really weird and experimental stuff with me. I learned a lot from that process, and I always wanted to rewrite and then restage it.

So, in my early days at Northwestern—I came here in fall of 2018 as a postdoc right after the play had opened—I did spend some time with the piece thinking about revamping it. And then, you know, the world turning upside down the next academic year because it was 2019-2020 and COVID happened and all theaters went dark, and there was no opportunity to rethink the work, except in my own head. So I started thinking, wouldn’t it be great if I can make a documentary, because it combined my interest in digital media and my experience making these explainer videos and docuseries. It would be great to do a documentary that combines some of the creative elements of music from the play with traditional documentary storytelling. So, I started working on that idea and thinking it’d be great to do it, especially because it was funny that I started to see this explosion of digital theater overnight since there weren’t any opportunities to perform except on Zoom or through recorded stuff. And I just wanted an opportunity to combine my areas of interest under this same topic, so I pitched it to Northwestern for a research grant and I got some funding. And now I’m going to be working on that for the next year and a half or so, making maybe a 20- to 30-minute documentary that combined some of the elements from the stage production that I thought were really successful along with traditional documentary storytelling, like interviewing the McKoy descendents, looking at archival footage, and you know, figuring out ways to bring that story to life and to a larger audience.

JPPE: Theater and performativity are in a rudimentary sense acted and therefore fictitious, but in recent years I think we’ve had a wider awareness that it isn’t that simple. So, how does the theory that you study translate into real world politics, representation, and change? And can you speak about this in relation to your Refinements of Cruelty?

Bainbridge: It’s interesting because I’ve always been interested in the work of people like Moisés Kaufman, Anna Deavere Smith—people who do documentary theatre, just because it offers something really insightful and interesting, especially Anna Deavere Smith, I’m a big admirer of her work. So I think, when I write and when I create stuff, I do know where the line between reality and fiction is, I think that’s the first step, but I am also really interested in ways that theater could impact and bring about empathetic and lasting political and social change. I do think that the pieces that we make and things we put into the world have an impact on the way we view representation, on the way we view politics, on the way we view people from groups that aren’t our own. And so, when I’m teaching my students, it’s not just that I want them to be good storytellers, or good creators of fiction. I also want them to be good people, good global citizens, good people who think about the world in really critical and crucial ways.

And I think there’s so much to be said for performance in general. Not only the creation of it, but the consumption of it is this huge engine for empathy and huge engine for understanding. So, when I’m making work or when I’m thinking about theater or writing criticism, I’m thinking about it in those ways—specifically about how we can create lasting and sustained social and political change through the creation of art.

And I don’t think every piece is for every person. But I do think that there’s a lot that can be done. And a lot of artists are thinking really critically, especially as we’re starting to see new generations of artists making work that’s really critically looking at race and gender, not that these things are new, but that they’re really important questions that are being brought up. I do think there is a history of work making new social movements or new social possibilities for people.

JPPE: What is the most impactful example of art that has created or propelled lasting change or social movements?

Bainbridge: One of the things I teach is a course on African American theater history that starts in the 19th century and ends with A Raisin in the Sun. And I think most of my students who are young, Gen Z, savvy, politically active folks think of Raisin in the Sun as that old-fashioned play from the 50s that they had to read in high school or early college. And the thing for me about why I staged the class this way that ends with Raisin is that we have all of this activity of Black theatrical innovation and genius that comes before it. We have plays from Black artists in the 19th century, we studied things like slave narratives, we study Frederick Douglass’s oratory, we look at W.E.B. DuBois’s theories of artist propaganda, we look at some of the darker aspects of the representation of Black people like blackface minstrelsy, Vaudeville—you know, performance of minstrelsy as well as early instances of Black people performing in blackface. So we also see some of that as well in this time period.

But what I want to chart for my students is the slow progress that we start to see in Black representation from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. We start to see improvements in realism, improvements in domestic drama, and then we have this revolutionary moment with A Raisin in the Sun, where it’s this big critical success, but it’s also one of the first plays that we see by a queer, radical Black woman that represents Black people as people and fully human. And so by the time my students arrive at A Raisin in the Sun, you can see that they’re excited, that they say, “Oh my god, finally something that looks like real people, fully fleshed out people.”

And I think oftentimes, Hansberry’s work gets read as conservative because it comes from a particular historical moment, but actually, it was this radical revelation in the representation of Blackness on popular stages. And it represents early emerging Pan-African identities through the character of Beneatha, it talks about the role of gender through characters like Ruth and Mama Younger and Walter. We see early integration politics that represent Black desire as not a desire for integration because they want to be in proximity to whiteness or close to whiteness, but because they want greater opportunity for themselves and their children.

That subtlety and that keen hand that Hansberry has was so revelatory, and I really like having it at the end of the quarter so that students can finally put it in its context and say, “Oh, this really was a lot different than what came before it. This really is espousing something radical and fresh when you think about what came before it.” So that’s one of my favorite examples, and then I also teach the second half of that course, which is A Raisin in the Sun to contemporary theater.

JPPE: What has been your research methodology on the Refinement of Cruelty project, and what has surprised you or not surprised you the most about the process?

Bainbridge: As a writer, I write a lot of creative nonfiction, as well. And I was really surprised by what the archive demanded of me in terms of ethics. I'm looking at this archive of people who were exploited, essentially, in multiple ways. And I'm trying to make sense of this story while I'm also having complicated and complex feelings as a Black woman, as someone who has experienced the trials and tribulations of the American healthcare system, and medicalization and fetish, and all of these other things. And so, you know, when I first started the project, it was 2012. So it's been, like 10 years. So that's overwhelming. But I think when I first started the project, I was just surprised by how hard it was for me to look at the material, because I primarily before then had been studying feminist theatre from Jamaica in the 1980s. So it was more celebratory and more self-fashioning, because these women were creating their own stories and writing their own work, deciding what went into the archive.

Things about the performers I study largely when they're either against their will or without their consent, at the very least. And so methodologically, I started thinking through two primary questions. The first was, what does it mean to enter something into the archive? What does it mean, to put something on the official record? And the second question was, what are the ethics or responsibility that I have as a Black queer woman telling this story? What do I need to do to make this feel okay?

The first question I kind of answered with what I'm theorizing is the future perfect tense of historical recording. The future perfect is a tense that you see in romance languages, like Latin and Spanish, which is the past tense of the future. So it’s, “it will have been.” I started to fool around with that idea because I thought, when you are entering something into the record as a historical actor, as someone who is concerned with history—so say, I have things that I think are historically significant, I entered into an archive—I’m concerned with how history is going to be told 10 years from now, and 15 years from now and 100 years from now, that's why I put it in the archive. I wanted to trace sort of what those impulses were, and why people began to think through those terms. And I thought the archive that I was engaging in, especially because a lot of it is ephemera, and sort of freak show stuff, and things that people think of as lowbrow culture, I was thinking, why would someone enter this in an archive? What's the impetus? And why are they thinking that historians 100 years from now should be able to view this? They put this in a protected place for a reason.

And then the second question methodologically, I'm answering was what I'm calling an ethnography of the archive. So it's a lot of auto-ethnographic writing that I do about archival ethics, essentially. And I put that in the project itself and fold it into it itself because I think one of the things that felt unsatisfying to me was speaking in the sort of disembodied historian’s third-person voice. I wanted it to feel as if I was considering the questions of what the archive is demanding of me and my own subject position as a descendant of slaves. And I started doing that writing mostly in grad school to satisfy myself. It wasn't something that I thought would really end up in the project. And then when I saw that people were responsive to it, and that the questions being asked by this ethnography of the archive were leading me somewhere methodologically, I started writing more and more and more and more. So I think you really have to consider what the archive demands of you before you start working. Because if I was working on another archive, or a completely different subject, I don't think I would have the same questions.

JPPE: Right, so really considering positionality.

Bainbridge: Yes.

JPPE: What are the cultural and economic legacies of the freakshow and performance archive that you’ve found?

Bainbridge: There are some interesting economic quirks of these archives. In one chapter of my manuscript, I call it the “Alternative Ledgers of Enslaved Labor.” That’s where the economic angle of this archive really becomes most evident. The chapter itself focuses on this really long ledger kept by Chang and Eng Bunker, who are two other subjects in my study. Chang and Eng were conjoined twins, just like the McKoys. They spent most of their life in North Carolina, just like the McKoys, but they were actually born in Thailand, or then known as Siam. They are the twins around which the phrase “Siamese twins” was established, so they are the original so-called “Siamese twins.”

This ledger is interesting to me particularly because they are included in my study not because they were enslaved, but actually because they were racialized, BIPOC people who were slave owners. When they retired from the freakshow stage, they invested their money in buying two adjacent plantations, they married two white sisters—each married to one sister—and they divided their time between these two plantations, they owned a few dozen slaves, and they invested all their money in Confederate currency. So ultimately, we all know the historical outcome of this, that Confederate current went defunct. It became valueless after the war ended, and they were forced to re-enter the freakshow stage as performers, essentially to support their family and to support themselves.

I’m interested in this ledger, particularly because it’s so detailed and so nitty gritty, but it doesn’t recount any of the expenses of all of the enslaved souls that lived on these plantations. So it doesn’t have a lot of information about the women and men that they enslaved, but it has things like, “gave daughter five cents to repair her gloves,” “25 cents in postage for publicity, five flyers,” I’m sifting through this ledger primarily to think about ways that performance labor is recorded, but slave labor is erased. And I’m also curious about how we think about performance labor through these enslaved performers. So folks, not like the Bunkers, but more like the McKoys and Blond Tom Wiggins and Joice Heth, who are other people who are in my study.

I’m interested in how we could reconfigure this as not just performance practices, but thinking about labor because at its heart, slavery is a labor system. It is an economic system—to live in a slave society is an economic system. So I’m thinking through scholars like historian Stephanie Smallwood’s Saltwater Slavery, I’m thinking through things like Jennifer Morgan’s Laboring Women, where they think really intimately about the connection between finance and enslavement and what it means, particularly for Black women. I’m curious about how all these things could be read through performance, where we’re not necessarily seeing these performers do things like pick cotton, or perform housework, or take care of children because they were presumed to be valueless, essentially, because of their physical disability. But many of them ended up becoming the prize of their master’s plantation because their performance labor actually netted more money than they could do any of those domestic tasks or fieldwork. So I’m curious about that relationship and how it can be explicated.

JPPE: Switching over to your project on nation and how the nation is imagined and born, what is the relation between literature and performance and the idea of nationhood? How do postcolonialism and Black Feminist Theory interact with, shape, or reflect these ideas and forces?

Bainbridge: I first became interested in this topic because I was teaching a class which used to be called State-Funded Theater of the Americas and now is called State-Funded Theater of the US and Caribbean, which looks at state-funded theater from the 20th century after postcolonial movements have started to emerge in the 1930s until about the 1970s. It is concerned with why and how so many states, these newly formed independent nations, as they were entering the postcolonial period, why they were funding theater. That was my initial question that started the idea for the book. What is it about theater or these plays—you know, they’re funding plays by Dereck Walcott about the Haitian Revolution, they’re funding plays by Sylvia Winter, they’re funding plays by lesser-known playwrights and we’re seeing this explosion of work from really important folks who would later become important poets, playwrights, postcolonial theorists, and they’re essentially being put to work by these states making theater?

And then at the same time, in the US during the Great Depression, we start to see things like the Works Progress Administration and the Federal Theater Project, which are funding what they’re calling “Negro Units,” in the parlance of the day, of all-Black theater companies that are doing this really interesting work. I was introduced to a book by a scholar named Stephanie Batiste, who wrote a book called Darkening Mirrors. The book is about how these Negro Units of the Federal Theater Project were also thinking about US imperialism and internationalism in their performances because they often staged things like a production of Macbeth that’s set in Haiti or a version of The Mikado that’s set in the Pacific. And they’re doing these really interesting internationalist works, and I was also really taken in by a book called Sachmo Blows up the World which thinks about how Black jazz artists were sent around the world during the Cold War essentially as ambassadors of American identity.

I became interested in all of these questions around the same time, which is: why is it important to use art to express national identity or a nationalist identity? I really started thinking about how these works could be connected, and I started to find other examples of how these places, these newly formed nations were thinking about their own national identities.

Then the second thing I became really interested in was the professionalization of the Olympics, which sounds completely disparate and sounds like it has nothing to do with it, but basically I wanted to know how the Olympics went from being what was considered an amateur event—so, one of the requirements of the Olympics prior to, I want to say the 1970s or earlier, was that folks had to be amateur athletes, so they couldn’t be making money, either from sponsorship or they couldn’t be involved in professional leagues. And this was supposed to be a leveling of the playing field, but also was a big hallmark of the Olympic Games. As that transitioned to becoming this multibillion-dollar industry with TV ads and Coca-Cola sponsorships and all this other stuff, we start to see some of these newly independent nations start to get this greater recognition beyond the scope of their political impact. So we start to see places like my family’s home country of Jamaica become really famous for track and field, even though on the international politics scale, they weren’t considered a necessarily huge player by other nations because of global anti-Blackness and general disregard for Caribbean politics. So, we see smaller nations get this chance to now be considered competitors of larger nations.

Those are the two archives that I started digging around in that made me want to ask these questions, and as I got more and more into thinking about these things, I just started pulling that thread and saying, “What are other instances of ways that nations perform their own identity?” I started thinking about monuments because we were in this endless news cycle of Confederate monuments being torn down and colonial monuments being torn down around the world. And then I started thinking, “Well, what’s another performance that’s supposed to signify something?” And I started looking into the performance and writing of national anthems, who gets put on money, who becomes a national hero, who’s considered an emblem of the nation?

And I think all of these questions come because I am a scholar who’s deeply invested in Black Feminist Theory. They come from a Black Feminist perspective because I’m not just concerned with how we perform masculine leadership in new nations. I’m concerned with how all of these disparate things come together, but I’m also curious about the performance of nationalism or the performance of the nation-state particularly because I just haven’t had as many satisfying answers. I have a rule, basically: if I’m in a meeting and I have an idea, I have to be willing to do the thing that I’m suggesting, or else I don’t suggest it, because I hate being that person who says, “It’d be great if someone…would do this.” I have a similar thing with my scholarship, which is: if I have a question and it needs answering, I should probably write it down and write the answer because I can’t wait on someone else to do the project or do the thing.

The question of nationhood became really interesting to me, not because I’m so much invested in the idea of the nation-state, but because these early independent countries as they’re starting to formulate their own idea of themselves, are turning to things like parades, and festivals, and literature, and theater, and are funding it at an incredibly high rate in comparison to what we see today. I mean, now it’s hard to get money out of a government to do anything artistic because other things are considered more practical. But it’s curious to me that so many nations are experiencing that same impulse at the same time—they’re saying “Oh, it’s important for us to have anthem, it’s important for us to have a national team at the Olympics, it’s important for us to put on plays and give people a sense of cultural heritage and pride.” It just seemed like too many coincidences not to be something, and that’s really where the idea came from.

JPPE: How has the relationship between nationhood and culture and performance in literature or literary methods shifted over time and geography? How have different power systems influenced this?

Bainbridge: From what I’ve done in terms of preliminary research and writing the proposal, in the early days of these postcolonial movements, there was a lot of effort made to put a good face on independence. There was a sense of celebration, liberation, where we start to see things like emerging Pan-Africanism, Black Nationalism, a sort of international perspective that’s thinking of people of color and oppressed people as in league with each other, as having shared destinies. And I think that’s really, really fascinating.

I also think that as time goes on, and we start to see some of the hangover of postcolonial excitement, we start to see less and less of these performances, at least in my early stages of research for this second project. While there’s this big boom at the beginning of, “we need to have plays and pageantry and all this stuff to celebrate postcolonial identity,” it starts to slowly wane, not necessarily because I think the interest in promoting cultural identity goes away, but because other emerging issues of forming an independent nation come to the fore, things like being recognized internationally, economic downturn, the strength of the dollar—these become more prevalent at the front. As many nations became sort of undermined by the international community, we just see less and less of it. That’s the trajectory that I’m tracing now. Why is there this period of just explosion of creativity? And then the creativity doesn’t go away, the creation doesn’t go away, but some of the funding goes away, and when people are less inclined to put money behind something, it becomes less visible. And now, my work as a historian is to trace what became less visible.

JPPE: Did the burst of creativity also come during independence movements?

Bainbridge: Yeah, so we start to see them in the line with a lot of independence movements. I start the book with Aimé Césaire’s and others’ formulation of Négritude in the 1930s, which is interesting because Césaire himself is a politician, poet, theorist, global citizen—you know, he’s doing all this stuff. So I start with that, and then I think as time goes on—like anything, creativity is a plant, it needs water to grow, it needs funding to grow, it needs support to grow—we start to see people investing, especially because a lot of these early politicians had a sense of culture and literature that was more acute. They’re reading Marx, they’re reading cultural theory, they’re exchanging ideas, they’re organizing festivals and things together. There’s a lot of shared destiny in their thinking. But I think, because the idea of nation-state often gets framed, especially from a Western perspective, as individualistic—there’s the idea that you have to support and protect the boundaries and borders and we hear that rhetoric all the time here in the US—we start to see that it doesn’t disappear, people are still engaging and writing and making the stuff, but we just see a shift in focus, and I think that’s really where art reaches its limit a little bit.

JPPE: How can theory and literature help us understand modern imperialism and the continuing legacies of past imperialism?

Bainbridge: That’s really a great question. I’ll reference again Stephanie Batiste’s book because I think she does an excellent and really articulate job of discussing the connection between imperialism and performance. I do think that the work we make in any given historical moment is informed by what’s happening around us. Even if you set a sci-fi thriller in the year 3500, it’s informed by the moment you write it in. We know that implicitly as people who study literature and study performance, but I think it’s also curious as we start to see work now take up that charge but in a commercial sense. The work that I study was primarily funded by governments, and I’m interested in that aspect of things, but I was teaching the Swing Mikado (or the all-Black cast of the Mikado) to my students a couple weeks ago, and one of them brought up—so I can’t take credit for this—they brought up that it’s really interesting to see that this moment is so concerned with US militarism and involvement around the world, and we’re coming off the wake of World War I, launching right into World War II, and then the Korean War and Vietnam, and we’re seeing all these things. And they made an analogy between the Swing Mikado or the all-Black cast of the Mikado and Hamilton, and how those two things speak to each other. They were saying that if the question of the moment when Swing Mikado came out in the 1930s was emerging US military involvement and imperialism, then the question of Hamilton is the hangover and wake of multiculturalism and what moment we’re in now as a society.

And there’s lots to be said about Hamilton, I don’t know if I necessarily need to go down that rabbit-hole, but one thing that I find fascinating about it—and I didn’t see a live production, I saw the Disney Plus recording of the stage version—is that I think the music is actually quite good but I think that what it’s doing in terms of cross-racial casting is actually really confusing and not necessarily as successful as people think. So, I’m curious about that connection because, if the question of that moment was emerging imperialism, the question of this moment is now entrenched imperialism coupled with the hangover of 90s and early 2000s multiculturalism, and the promise of that moment. When I was a kid in the 90s, multiculturalism was everywhere. There was this idea that if we just put people forward enough, if we just represent people enough, if we just have enough TV shows with diverse casts, that will solve the problem of race or solve the problem of classism or xenophobia. And now, many years later, we see the failings of that. But I think the hopefulness of something like Hamilton is directly linked to that movement and that moment.

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