Lin-Manuel Miranda apologized to those saying the new film adaptation of his heavily Latinx "In the Heights" downplays Afro-Latinos in favor of lighter-skinned performers.
"I started writing 'In the Heights' because I didn't feel seen," tweeted Miranda, 41, who is of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent and was raised in the Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, adjacent to Washington Heights, where his 2008 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical takes place. "And over the past 20 years all I wanted was for us — ALL of us — to feel seen."
Miranda said he began noticing "the discussion around Afro-Latino representation in our film this weekend," when the movie opened in theaters and on HBO Max, "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 … 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."
Following sporadic social-media comments on the topic since the first trailer dropped in December 2019, ahead of the movie's pandemic-postponed original release date of June 26, 2020, criticism over the dearth of Afro-Latinos coalesced last Wednesday around a video interview in TheRoot.com with three cast members and director Jon M. Chu.
"In the end, when we were looking at the cast," said Chu, 41, in response to a question about Black Latino representation, "we tried to get the people who were best for those roles." Melissa Barrera, one of the leads, added that, "In the audition process … there were a lot of Afro-Latinos there, a lot of darker-skinned people, and I think [the producers] were looking for just the right people for the roles, for the person that embodied each character in the fullest extent."
When Chu pointed out Black dancers in the film's musical numbers, interviewer Felice León, herself Afro-Cuban, replied that such casting for dance is common, and while acknowledging the film had Black bit players, she noted that "a lead, that's the breakthrough."
"In trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short," wrote Miranda, who TheRoot said had declined to be interviewed. "I'm truly sorry. I'm learning from the feedback, I thank you for raising it, and I'm listening. … 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."