Lin-Manuel Miranda Responds to Critics of ‘In the Heights’ Casting
Since the film’s release last week, there have been complaints about the film’s lack of prominent roles for dark-skinned Afro-Latino actors.
Lin-Manuel Miranda has apologized for failing to adequately depict the dark-skinned Afro-Latino population of Washington Heights, the Upper Manhattan neighborhood where his musical is set, in the film adaptation of his musical “In the Heights.”
The film, adapted from the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical about a bodega owner yearning to return to the Dominican Republic, premiered last week in theaters and on HBO Max, garnering positive reviews and high-profile celebrations.
However, the film drew criticism online for the filmmakers’ decision to cast light-skinned Latino actors in leading roles, despite the neighborhood’s high concentration of dark-skinned Latinos.
Miranda, who was a member of the film’s creative team, stated in his statement that he was listening to online feedback, which included expressions of hurt and frustration over colorism and a sense of “still being unseen” in the film.
“I began writing ‘In the Heights’ because I felt invisible,” Miranda wrote on Monday evening in a statement posted to Twitter. “And for the last two decades, all I desired was for us — for EVERYONE — to feel seen.”
“I’ve heard that without adequate representation of dark-skinned Afro-Latino people,” he continued, “the work feels extractive of the community we wished to represent with pride and joy.”
“I can hear the anguish and frustration associated with colorism, with the sense of being invisible in the feedback,” he stated in the statement.
The film, a decade in the making and with a reported budget of $55 million, starred Anthony Ramos as the bodega owner, Melissa Barrera as a budding fashion designer, and Leslie Grace as Nina, a struggling Stanford student.
Quiara Alegra Hudes, the film’s writer, recently discussed the decision to make Nina an Afro-Latina character in the film version. “I wanted to make Nina consciously Afro-Latina in this adaptation of ‘In the Heights.’ Since we opened the show on Broadway, a national conversation has centered on microaggressions and other fascinating topics that, in my opinion, apply to Nina’s situation.”
Corey Hawkins, who plays Nina’s love interest and a driver for her father’s cab company, is Black but not Latino (some have also criticized the filmmakers for omitting a plot point from the musical in which Hawkins’ character says her father does not believe he is good enough for her).
Felice León, a Root video producer, addressed the issue in a recent interview with the film’s director, Jon M. Chu, and several of the film’s lead actors, saying, “As a Black woman of Cuban descent, specifically from New York City, it would be remiss of me to ignore the fact that the majority of your principal actors are light-skinned or white-passing Latinx people.”
León acknowledged that while there were a number of Black background dancers and Black women in scenes set in the neighborhood’s hair salon, which served as a sort of social hub for the neighborhood’s women, Black performers in leading roles were scarce.
“We want to see Afro-Panamanian, Black Cuban, and Black Dominican people,” she explained. “That is what we desire to see, and that is what we wished for.”
Chu stated that the filmmakers discussed the subject but that “in the end, when we were casting, we tried to get the best people for those roles.”
Grace, who is Afro-Latina, responded in the interview, “I do hope to see my brothers and sisters who are darker than me lead these films.”
The debate over “In the Heights” is taking place at a time when Latinos’ underrepresentation in Hollywood has come under increased scrutiny, prompting calls for change.
While Latinos made up 18.3 percent of the population, they made up only 4.7 percent of feature film writers and 8.7 percent of television writers, according to a Writers Guild of America West study released last year. In a 2019 study, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California described the lack of Latinos both behind and in front of the camera as a “erasure.”
Some defended Miranda, pointing out that he has long advocated for diverse casts on Broadway and in Hollywood, and that “In the Heights” celebrates Latino communities in ways that film and television rarely do.
Miranda’s statement reflected the tension inherent in attempting to celebrate the film — with a star-studded premiere at the opening of the 20th Tribeca Film Festival — while also responding to the film’s detractors.
“I’m attempting to hold space for both our incredible pride in the film we made and our accountability for our shortcomings,” he wrote.