Lin-Manuel Miranda has responded to criticism that new film In the Heights, which is based on his hit Broadway musical, failed to represent Washington Heights’ Afro-Latino community.
As The Hollywood Reporter reports, host and producer Felice León from The Root spoke with director Jon M. Chu and actors Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace and Gregory Diaz IV over the weekend about the lack of Afro-Latino actors in principal roles in a video that went viral. On Monday, Miranda addressed the issue via Twitter.
“I’m seeing the discussion around Afro-Latino representation in our film this weekend and it is clear that many in our dark-skinned Afro-Latino community don’t feel sufficiently represented within it, particularly among the leading roles,” he wrote. “I can hear the hurt and frustration over colorism, of feeling still unseen in the feedback.
“I hear that without sufficient dark-skinned Afro-Latino representation the work feels extractive of the community we wanted so much to represent with pride and joy,” he continued. “In trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short. I’m truly sorry.”
In the video conversation, León confronted the director and cast about the lack of representation. “As a black woman of Cuban descent, specifically from New York City, it would be remiss of me to not to acknowledge the fact that most of your principal actors were light skinned or white-passing Latinx people. So with that, what are your thoughts on the lack of black Latinx people represented in your film?”
Chu acknowledged her concern. “Yeah, I think that was something we talked about and I needed to be educated about, of course. In the end, you know, when we were looking at the cast we tried to get the people who were best for those roles specifically and we saw a lot of people… But I hear you on trying to fill those cast members with darker skin. I think that’s a really good conversation to have. Something that we should all be talking about.”
Actress Barrera brought up that the dance numbers encompassed the diversity. “Washington Heights is a melting pot of black and Latinx people. Jon and Lin wanted the dancers and the big numbers to feel very truthful to what the community looks like.” In Chu’s conversation with León, he asks what she thought of the representation when it came to the dance numbers. “Those roles historically we’ve been able to fill, right? We’ve been able to be the dancers, and we’ve been able to be in the hair salons, and you know this and that. But like a lead, that’s the breakthrough.”
Chu said it was “a fair conversation to have” and added that he hoped that the conversation would encourage “more people to tell more stories and get out there and do it right.”
“I didn’t realize until making this movie that I didn’t really get to see myself or people that look like my siblings that are darker than me onscreen,” Grace, the only Afro-Latina in the principal cast, said during the conversation. “So many times we’re put on screen in one particular way, and since we get so little opportunities, everyone wants to claim that one story because it’s all we’ve got.”
In Miranda’s response on Monday, he said he’s learning from and listening to the feedback and also acknowledging “our shortcomings.”
“Thank you for your honest feedback,” he concluded. “I promise to do better in my future projects, and I’m dedicated to the learning and evolving we all have to do to make sure we are honoring our diverse and vibrant community.”
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) June 14, 2021