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"In The Heights" is getting criticized on social media for having very few Black Latinx lead actors.
The director told The Root's Felice León they "tried to get the people who were best for those roles."
Actress Leslie Grace said she hopes the movie cracks the "glass ceiling" for Latinx representation.
"In The Heights" director Jon M. Chu said they tried to cast "the people who were best for those roles" in response to the criticism that the musical includes very few Afro-Latinx actors in main roles.
Shortly after the long-awaited musical movie's release in theaters and on HBO Max on June 10, some social-media users pointed out that "In The Heights" primarily features light-skinned Latinx leads, saying that most Black Latinx actors are cast as background actors in big dance numbers.
One of the people who spoke out about the lack of Afro-Latinx actors in the film was Carmen Phillips, editor-in-chief of Autostraddle, a news and entertainment website for LGBTQ women. Phillips wrote on Twitter that while she "loved 'In the Heights' with my entire soul," there was "a CLEAR casting choice not to cast any dark skinned Afro-Latinxs that should be discussed."
Oscar-winning director Matthew Cherry also tweeted that Afro-Cuban actress "Gina Torres would have destroyed 'In The Heights'" for mainly casting white-passing Latinx actors in main roles.
New York Times 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."
Set primarily in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan, "In The Heights" is adapted from the Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes Broadway musical of the same name. It tells the story of the Latin-American community in the neighborhood, led by bodega owner Usnavi (played by Anthony Ramos).
Chu called the criticism about the film's casting choices 'a really good conversation to have'
Ahead of the film's release, Chu told The Root's Felice León at a press junket that he "needed to be educated about" including more Black Latinx actors in "In The Heights."
"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," Chu told the publication in a video published on Wednesday. "People like Daphne [Rubin-Vega] or Dascha [Polanco]."
"Listen, we're not going to get everything right in a movie," the director continued. "We tried our best on all fronts of it. I do think there's something to be said about sharing in experiences and me never trying to say, 'I know what I'm doing' but just to give room to everybody to speak up about what we're doing in that moment."
Melissa Barrera, who plays Usnavi's love interest Vanessa in "In The Heights," echoed Chu in another interview featured in the same The Root video, saying that the film was "looking for just the right people for the roles."
"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," Barrera said about the film's casting.
Leslie Grace, who plays Nina Rosario in the movie, also told The Root that she hopes that "In The Heights" is "cracking that glass ceiling" with Latinx representation and she hopes to someday see darker-skinned actors "lead these movies."
"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, on-screen," Grace, who is Afro-Latina, said about "In The Heights."
"I didn't realize how much that affected the limitations that I put on myself," she continued.
Grace added: "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 on-screen 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."
In another interview published on Wednesday, Grace also told Harper's Bazaar that she was "super mindful" of Afro-Latinx representation while "embodying Nina."
Chu previously responded to criticism of whitewashing in 'Crazy Rich Asians'
While promoting "In The Heights" on May 4, Chu told Insider that he should have made the South Asian characters in "Crazy Rich Asians" "more human" in response to criticism for casting Brown actors in subservient roles.
Some viewers criticized the 2018 box-office darling for featuring East Asian actors as protagonists but casting South Asian actors in domestic-worker roles.
"That's a lesson that I did not understand until it happened," Chu said. "I was like, this is a book that exists, and I'm making this book into a movie. I can't add a new character into this book."
Based on Kevin Kwan's 2013 novel of the same name, "Crazy Rich Asians" tells the story of Rachel (played by Constance Wu), a Chinese American professor, as she meets her boyfriend Nick's (Henry Golding) ultra-wealthy family in Singapore.
Though Indians are the third-largest ethnic group living in Singapore, there are only a few South Asian characters in "Crazy Rich Asians," mostly armed guards working at Nick's sprawling mansion in the woods.
"Looking back, I should have had a joke there [for the guards] being like, 'These idiots,'" the director said. "There's stuff to do to make them more human instead of just, like, these guards."
Read the original article on Insider