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Rita Moreno defends Lin-Manuel Miranda against 'In the Heights' casting criticism

Rita Moreno attends the premiere of "Rita Moreno:

Rita Moreno attends the premiere of "Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It" during the 20th Tribeca Festival at Pier 76 on , June 12, 2021, in New York. Lin-Manuel Miranda attends the opening night premiere of "In The Heights" during 2021 Tribeca Festival at United Palace Theater on June 9, 2021 in New York. Credit: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP; Noam Galai/Getty Images

Valley Stream-raised stage and screen legend Rita Moreno is defending Lin-Manuel Miranda over criticism that the new film adaptation of his "In the Heights" downplays Afro-Latinos in favor of lighter-skinned performers.

"Can we talk for a second about that criticism about Lin-Manuel? That really upsets me," Moreno, 89, said Tuesday on CBS' "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," referring to a video interview at TheRoot.com in which cast members and director Jon M. Chu fielded criticism over the dearth of Afro-Latinos among the film's lead roles.

"You can never do right, it seems," said the Puerto Rico-born Moreno, one of the very few performers to have won Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Academy awards. "This is the man who literally has brought Latino-ness and Puerto Rican-ness to America," she maintained of Miranda, composer of the Tony Award-winning 2008 musical "In the Heights" and playwright-composer of the primarily Black and Latino 2015 musical "Hamilton," which took 11 Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

"I couldn't do it," she continued. "I mean, I would love to say I did," with her Oscar-winning performance in "West Side Story," her Emmy-winning work on the children's series "The Electric Company" and countless other roles both mainstream and ethnic, "but I couldn't." Miranda, who with Norman Lear and others is an executive producer of the documentary "Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It," opening Friday, "has done that, really, singlehandedly," she enthused.

When asked if the criticism was misplaced, she responded that, "I'm simply saying, can't you just wait a while and leave it alone? There [are] a lot of people who are Puertorriqueño, who are also from Guatemala [and elsewhere in Latin America], who are dark and who are also fair. We are all colors in Puerto Rico. And … it would be so nice if they hadn't come up with that and left it alone, just for now. I mean, they're really attacking the wrong person."

Miranda on Monday had tweeted in response to the "In the Heights" casting criticism 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."

He added, "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 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."

Moreno spent her teen years in Valley Stream, where her family lived next door to a beet farm, she recalled in her 2013 memoir, and took the Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan for her fateful meeting with MGM chief Louis B. Mayer that won her the studio contract that launched her career.

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