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Rita Moreno Defends Lin-Manuel Miranda Over ‘In the Heights’ Colorism: ‘Can’t You Leave It Alone?’

“You can never do right, it seems," the Oscar-winning actress said.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Rita Moreno

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Rita Moreno

Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

Update, June 17: Moreno issued a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that reads: “I’m incredibly disappointed with myself. While making a statement in defense of Lin Manuel Miranda on the Colbert Show last night, I was clearly dismissive of black lives that matter in our Latin community. It is so easy to forget how celebration for some is lament for others. In addition to applauding Lin for his wonderful movie version of ‘In the Heights,’ let me add my appreciation for his sensitivity and resolve to be more inclusive of the Afro-Latino community going forward. See, you CAN teach this old dog new tricks.”

Earlier: Rita Moreno came to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s defense during a June 15 interview on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Miranda’s film adaptation of “In the Heights” has received backlash over colorism as the cast lacks any dark-skinned Afro-Latino lead actors. Moreno, whose documentary “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” is executive produced by Miranda, brought up the “In the Heights” colorism controversy herself during an interview with Colbert.

“Can we talk for a second about that criticism about Lin-Manuel? That really upsets me,” Moreno said. “You can never do right, it seems. [Lin-Manuel Miranda] is the man who literally has brought Latino-ness and Puerto Rican-ness to America. I couldn’t do it. I would love to say I did, but I couldn’t. Lin-Manuel has done that really singlehandedly, and I’m thrilled to pieces and I’m proud that he produced my documentary.”

The Oscar-winning Moreno continued, “I’m simply saying, can’t you just wait a while and leave it alone? There’s a lot of people who are Puertorriqueños, who are also from Guatemala, who are dark and who are also fair. We are all colors in Puerto Rico. And this is how it is, and it would be so nice if they hadn’t come up with that and just left it alone, just for now. I mean, they’re really attacking the wrong person.”

Miranda came forward June 14 on social media to apologize for the colorism in “In the Heights,” writing, “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 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,” Miranda continued. “I’m learning from the feedback, I thank you for raising it, and I’m listening…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 Root journalist Felice León brought up the film’s colorist casting to director Jon M. Chu, who said the “In the Heights” team 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 added, “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].”

“In the Heights” is now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

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