In The Heights, the new movie musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) and directed by Jon Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), did a bad job of representing the racial diversity of the Washington Heights, New York neighborhood in which it is set. On that fact there seems to be no argument. And it’s not just something the nebulous “internet” is saying either. Charges of colorism and a lack of dark-skinned Afro-Latinx representation grew to a crescendo over the weekend after Jon and cast members Melissa Barrera (who is Mexican) and Leslie Grace (above, who is Afro-Latina) were asked about it an interview with Felice Léon of The Root. It did not go well. So now Lin’s released a statement himself acknowledging that “in trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short.” Somewhere Gina Rodriquez is thanking her lucky stars she can’t sing and gets a free pass on this mess.
According to Vulture:
In the Heights, the major movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Broadway musical, opened to an extremely modest box office and largely positive critical reception this weekend. But for all of the film’s themes of diversity and identity, In the Heights noticeably lacks dark-skinned Afro-Latinx performers or characters in any of the film’s major roles, of which there are many. The only Black character in the main cast, Benny, is played by non-Latino actor Corey Hawkins, and in the musical, his character is non-Latino and viewed by Nina’s father as an outsider. Meanwhile, all of the main Latinx characters are portrayed by light-skinned and white-passing actors, which viewers have pointed out on Twitter makes for an incomplete and inaccurate depiction of Washington Heights.
The Root interview really drove this point home. We’ve seen how it usually goes when discussing colorism and Afro-Latinx representation with actors before (I mean it took Zoë Saldana 10 years to admit she had no business playing Nina Simone). And this time, even the film’s director came off as clueless as he did when he was asked about colorism in his previous film Crazy Rich Asians. According to People:
León, who described herself as a “Black woman of Cuban descent,” asked Chu, Barrera and Grace about “the lack of Black Latinx people represented” in the film considering the movie’s main cast “were light-skinned or white-passing Latinx people.”
“Yeah, I mean I think that that was something we talked about and I needed to be educated about, of course,” Chu, 41, responded. “In the end, when we were looking at the cast, we were trying to get the people who were best for those roles and that specifically, and we saw a lot of people, people like Daphne [Rubin-Vega], or Dascha [Polanco].”
“But I hear you on trying to fill those cast members with darker-skinned [actors]. I think that’s a really good conversation to have, something that we should all be talking about,” he added.
Barrera, who plays Vanessa in the movie, added, “I think it’s important to note, though, that in the audition process – which was a long audition process – there were a lot of Afro-Latinos there. A lot of darker-skinned people, and I think they were looking for just the right people for the roles, for the person that embodied each character in the fullest extent.”
Not to worry, Melissa and Jon both pointed out that those with darker complexions were apparently right for being relegated to background dancers. Here they are having THAT conversation.
And Here’s Lin’s response.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) June 14, 2021
OK, so he’s listening. But next time, mama, let’s research first!
— A•LB•ERTO (@Berto_M97) October 15, 2019