Lin-Manuel Miranda apologizes for lack of Afro-Latino representation in 'In the Heights'

·4 min read

Lin-Manuel Miranda addressed criticism following the opening weekend of the movie adaption of “In the Heights,” apologizing Monday for a lack of African Latino representation.

“In The Heights,'' which was written by Miranda and originally opened on Broadway in 2008, follows a Caribbean diaspora community in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood amid a rise of gentrification. The film adaptation, released in theaters and on HBO Max last week, was highly anticipated but some expressed disappointment at the lack of Afro-Latinos in the cast.

Miranda, one of the film's producers who also has a cameo role in the adaptation, acknowledged the critics Monday in a statement on Twitter, saying he heard the “hurt and frustration” over colorism.

“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,” Miranda said.

The Washington Heights native said that without sufficient representation of dark-skinned African Latinos, “the work feels extractive of the community.”

“In trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short,” Miranda wrote. “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.”

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“In the Heights” follows an ensemble, with the leads primarily being of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent.

At least 24 percent of Hispanics identify as Afro-Latino, according to a 2016 study from Pew Research Center. And it is more likely that someone who has Caribbean roots will identify as Afro-Latino as those with roots elsewhere.

“In The Heights” was heralded before its release for multi-dimensional representation of the Latino community, avoiding stereotypical tropes of Latinos as criminals or domestic workers and exploring a community and the people within it through their aspirations and exploration of their identities.

Critics accused the film of whitewashing the Washington Heights neighborhood by centering the story around light-skinned cast members and regulating dark-skinned Afro-Latinos to the background. The film's sole Black lead is portrayed by Corey Hawkins, though his character Benny is not identified as having Caribbean roots.

Jay-Ann Lopez, founder of Black Girl Gamers, tweeted that she was tired of movies “using dark skinned afro-latinos for the backdrop.”

“Any one of those characters could have been dark skinned afro-latinos and there are plenty of qualified actors that exist especially from NY,” she wrote, tagging the film’s account. “The question for me is why are NONE of the major roles played by dark skinned afro-latinos? Like in my mind it's completely possible.”

Actor Wilson Cruz, who identifies as Afro-Latino, tweeted that he agreed with criticism but felt it was emblematic of a larger issue.

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"ONE of the issues with having so little #Latinx representation in media is that we’re disappointed when it fails to reflect EVERY aspect & nuance of our VARIED & COMPLEX culture," Cruz wrote. "No ONE movie or TV show will ever be able to convey that which is why we need MORE made by more of US." Cruz, known best for his role in the 1990s series "My So-Called Life," was the first openly gay actor to play an openly gay teenager on primetime television.

When asked why the leading cast was composed primarily of “light skinned or white passing” actors during an interview with The Root, "In The Heights" director Jon M. Chu said it was a topic he needed to be “educated about."

“In the end, you know when we were looking at the cast, we tried to get the people who were best for those roles and that specifically and we saw a lot of people … but I hear you on, you know trying to fill those cast members with darker skin,” Chu said. “I think that’s a really good conversation to have and something we should be talking about.”

In an accompanying article, The Root's Felice León noted that the conversation was particularly important because, historically, “there has been the exclusion of and violence toward Blackness within Latinidad” communities.

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