Following backlash over the lack of dark-skinned Afro-Latino actors in leading roles in the Warner Bros. musical “In the Heights,” producer Lin-Manuel Miranda has issued an apology via social media addressing the controversy that began over the weekend.
Soon after the movie premiered on HBO Max on June 10 and in theaters on June 11, some social media users and critics began to point out the dominance of light-skinned Latino actors featured throughout the movie, with critics observing that Black Latinx actors were primarily cast as background players in large-scale musical sequences.
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music and lyrics for the 2008 Broadway stage production on which Jon M. Chu’s movie is based. His apology reads as follows:
I started writing In the Heights because I didn’t feel seen.
And over the past 20 years all I wanted was for us — ALL of us — to feel seen.
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.
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.
In trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short.
I’m truly sorry.
I’m learning from the feedback, I thank you for raising it, and I’m listening.
I’m trying to hold space for both the incredible pride in the movie we made and be accountable for our shortcomings.
Thanks for your honest feedback. 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.
The backlash over casting in the film earlier surfaced on Twitter in a video interview hosted by The Root journalist Felice León, who directly asked director Jon M. Chu, “As a Black woman of Cuban descent specifically from New York City, it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge the fact that most of your principal actors were light-skinned or white-passing Latinx people. With that, what are your thoughts on the lack of Black Latinx people represented in your film?”
Chu said that they tried to cast “the people who were best for those roles.” Saying that he “needed to be educated” about including more Black Latinx actors in the film, Chu said, “In the end, when we were looking at the cast, we tried to get the people who were best for those roles and we saw a lot of people… People like Daphne [Rubin-Vega] or Dascha [Polanco].”
Over the weekend, New York Times arts critic fellow Isabelia Herrera tweeted that “actors & producers of in the heights don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about colorism or anti-Black racism.”
Autostraddle editor-in-chief Carmen Phillips tweeted on June 13 that though she “loved ‘In the Heights’ with my entire soul,” there was “also a CLEAR casting choice not to cast any dark skinned Afro-Latinxs that should be discussed.”
“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,” cast member Melissa Barrera (who plays the love interest to Anthony Ramos’ character) told The Root in the same interview featuring Chu.
“In the Heights” co-star Leslie Grace told The Root she hopes “In The Heights” is “cracking that glass ceiling” in terms of Latinx representation. “I didn’t realize until making this movie that I didn’t really get to see myself or people that looked like my siblings, that are darker than me, onscreen.”
Grace, who is Afro-Latina, added, “I didn’t realize how much that affected the limitations that I put on myself.” She continued, “I feel so blessed that we get to express the diversity that is within the Latinx community [with ‘In The Heights’] in a way that we haven’t been able to see onscreen because so many times we’re put on-screen in one particular way and since we get so little opportunity, everyone wants to claim that one story. Because it’s all we got.”
See Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Twitter statement below.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) June 14, 2021