The long-awaited premiere of In the Heights hit theaters and HBO Max on June 11, and immediately stirred up conversation around colorism on its opening weekend.
In the beginning of the film, an Afro-Latina mother is seen brushing her daughter’s hair. Despite the brief moment, the clip struck a chord with many Afro-Latines; yet, though entertaining, many people on social media pointed out that In the Heights lacked a strong Afro-Latino presence. In a film meant to portray Washington Heights, a neighborhood teeming with Afro-Latines—specifically Black Dominicans, and sometimes referred to as “Little Dominican Republic.” Yet, relatively few of them—and little to no darker skinned-toned folks—were represented in the casting, with none of them being lead characters. In fact, the few we saw were background actors as well as dancers.
On June 10, right before the wide release of the film, The Root published an interview exchange between Felice Leon, an Afro-Cuban, New York-native journalist for the Root, and members of the cast as well as director Jon Chu. She questioned why no Afro-Latinx persons with darker skin were cast in roles other than background dancers.
Chu acknowledged the omission but said he and the casting directors tried to fill the gap with background dancers. Some people were upset, stating that those criticizing the film were attempting to sabotage the film’s success, while others agreed that this discourse was well overdue.
“Since we get so little opportunity,” Leslie Grace (Nina) told The Root, “everyone wants to own that one narrative.” Although understandable, it’s impossible to ignore that these stories seldom appear to benefit Afro-Latinos.
On Monday evening, the creator and co-writer of In the Heights Lin-Manuel Miranda released a statement on his Twitter account acknowledging the error and vowing to do better. “I can hear the hurt and frustration over colorism, of feeling still unseen in the feedback,” he wrote. Rather than offering excuses, he accepted responsibility and pledged to do better. Throughout all of this, it’s important to note that it’s possible to celebrate In the Heights while also acknowledging that we need to do a better job of including Afro-Latines when sharing our stories. Recognizing that there is a problem is the first step toward resolution.