Lin Manuel Miranda Apologises For The Afro-Latinx Erasure Of In The Heights

Photo: courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.
Updated June 15, 2021: Upon seeing that his film had sparked a spirited discourse about anti-Blackness and colourism in the Latinx community, Lin Manuel Miranda shared a statement on social media addressing the controversy.
"I started writing In the Heights because I didn't feel seen," reads the statement. "And over the past 20 years all I wanted is for us — ALL OF US — to feel seen."
The Hamilton creator continued by acknowledging that In the Heights had in fact let the Afro-Latinx community down. It wasn't his intention by any means, but the ongoing conversation about representation and discrimination against darker-skinned people in Hollywood hit home for Miranda, making him realise the part that he's played in systemic colourism.
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"I can hear the hurt and frustration over colourism, of feeling still unseen in the feedback," Miranda wrote. "I hear that without sufficient Afro-Latino representation, the work feels extractive of the community we wanted so much to represent with pride and joy."
"I'm learning from the feedback, I thank you for raising it, and I'm listening," he concluded. "I promise to do better in my future projects, and I'm dedicated to learning and evolving [what] we all have to do to make sure we are honouring our diverse and vibrant community."
This story was originally published on June 14, 2021.
The film adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda’s beloved stage musical In the Heights made its debut last week, promising to offer up the big screen representation that Latinx people have long been asking Hollywood for. Unfortunately, In the Heights also plays into the tired industry tradition of excluding darker-skinned faces from its narrative, failing to highlight the overwhelmingly Afro-Latinx makeup of the very neighbourhood it’s celebrating. 
In the Heights centres on the hustle and bustle of Washington Heights, a lively neighbourhood tucked in the north side of New York City. Populated by Latinx people from all over the diaspora — with a significant number of its residents hailing from the Dominican Republic — the setting is a beautiful melting pot of Latinx cultures. However, the film doesn't exactly capture the diversity of the Heights with accuracy, specifically where its racial makeup is concerned. Leslie Grace (Nina Rosario in the movie) and Corey Hawkins (Benny) are the only Black actors in the noticeably white-passing ensemble cast, a casting choice that is quite troubling given the actual demographics of the Heights.
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Felice León, a writer for The Root who is both Afro-Cuban and a New York City native, brought up the disparity in representation while chatting with the cast and their director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) and was met with a disappointing response. When asked how In the Heights could be considered a film for all of the Latinx community while also excluding Afro-Latinx people, Chu said that he understood the concern but that the team had ultimately chosen the actors who were "best for the role." Melissa Barrera (Vida), who plays Vanessa in the movie, echoed those same sentiments.
"In the audition process, which was a long audition process, there were a lot of Afro-Latinos there," Barrera replied, unintentionally digging the hole even deeper. "A lot of darker-skinned people. And I think they were looking for just the right people for the roles. For the person that embodied each character in the fullest extent."
Grace was the only cast member in the interview to acknowledge the bad optics of failing to cast Black Latinx actors in the film, adding that she "hope[s] to see my brothers and sisters that are darker than me lead these movies" in the future. But the damage was done; when the interview hit the internet, a fiery discourse about erasure and discrimination against Afro-Latinx and dark-skinned Black people was already in full force.
Anti-Blackness and colourism in Hollywood is a persisting issue that people have been speaking up against for a very, very long time; whether it's Bridgerton or Chu's very own Crazy Rich Asians, the erasure of darker-skinned Black people and non-Black people of colour on screen is almost guaranteed in most major Hollywood undertakings. As good as the film is — because let's be real, it was a really good time — In the Heights unfortunately falls into that same trap. Yes, it's a long overdue moment for uplifting and celebrating the beauty of Latinx culture, but the reality is that Black people were once again excluded from a narrative that couldn't exist without them. Same problem, different project.
In the Heights is now available to watch in cinemas June 18th

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