In The Heights Under Fire For Lack Of Afro-Latinx Representation – See What Lin-Manuel Miranda Says!
The movie version of Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s 2008 Broadway musical In The Heights is drawing lots of attention this summer — but now it may be for all the wrong reasons.
During an interview with The Root last week, director Jon M. Chu was confronted with criticism about the casting decisions made in the movie, notably how the film’s noticeable lack of Afro-Latinx representation is concerning, to say the least.
Speaking with journalist Felice León of the digital media outlet, Chu outright acknowledged that the issue was something he “needed to be educated about,” and added:
“In the end, when we were looking at the cast, we tried to get people who were best for those roles. But I hear you on trying to fill those cast members with darker skin. I think that’s a really good conversation to have, something that we should all be talking about.”
But while Chu pointed out the background dance cast was diverse, he was admonished by the journalist for handing out only those roles to such a diverse audience.
“Those are roles that, historically, we’ve been able to fill. We’ve been able to be the dancers, we’ve been able to be in the hair salons…but, like, a lead? That’s the breakthrough. We want to see Black people In the Heights. We wanna see Afro-Panamanians, Black Cubans, Black Dominicans. That’s what we want to see. That’s what we were yearning for and hoping for.”
Man, holding his feet to the fire! That takes a lot of journalistic fortitude! Respect!
Echoing Chu’s comments was Melissa Barrera, a Mexican actress who plays Vanessa in the film. Speaking on the casting process, she said:
“In the audition process, which was a long audition process, there were a lot of Afro-Latinos there. 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. I think we are all very much like our characters, so much so that a lot of times it didn’t even feel like we were acting. And because the cast ended up being us, and Washington Heights is a melting pot of Black and Latinx people, Jon and Lin wanted the dancers and the big numbers to feel very truthful to what the community looks like.”
But that’s not good enough!
While being truthful about what a community looks like is great, having darker-skinned people simply be background dancers didn’t sit well with Twitter users all throughout the weekend.
Following León’s interview with Chu and Barrera on The Root, the whole issue erupted and went viral over the last two days, leading many to call out the controversy for what it is.
One Twitter user wrote (below):
“‘There were afro latinx people in the auditions but they chose us cause we ‘fit the roles better’ really? No one else could play your role? ‘There were black dancers though! You didn’t see them?’ We did we just saw no leads.”
Another echoed that sentiment, adding:
“‘Black Latinx ppl showed up to the audition but none of them were good enough to get a leading role’ is actually probably the worst excuse someone could give for colorism (which there’s obviously no valid excuse for).”
And a third added:
“Saying that there were plenty of darker skinned Latinx people at auditions, and none got casted for leading roles because they picked actors who ’embodied what they were looking for’ is very yikes.”
Here’s that full interview from The Root, by the way:
Now, Lin-Manuel himself wasn’t interviewed by The Root, but interestingly, he also addressed the musical’s representation issue when speaking with Vox in another interview last Thursday.
Explaining that the decision-makers on set tried their best to showcase diversity, the Hamilton whiz said:
“It’s unfair to put any kind of undue burden of representation on In the Heights. There are so many millions of stories — there’s a song in Heights called Hundreds of Stories, but there’s millions of stories — from the cultural specificities of the Puerto Rican-American experience, the Dominican-American experience, the Cuban-American experience, and we couldn’t get our arms around all of that.”
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