In The Heights was and is a big moment for Latinx representation on the big screen. As we know, Hollywood has a severe problem with representation of Latinx narratives. I mean, what was the last major studio film that featured a majority Latinx cast? Selena in 1997? That’s quite a long time ago.
Based on the Tony-winning Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, In The Heights was directed by Jon M. Chu and it is rich with Latinx culture and celebrates the community. It’s quite a great film. In fact, it is the perfect film to launch your summer theater-going experience. I highly encourage you to watch it in the theater because a small screen does not give it any justice.
However, after the release, people started to notice that there was a lack of dark-skinned Afro-Latinos in the core cast. In fact, the majority of them were light-skinned. Many — specifically those in the community started to question why this was.
In an interview with The Root, reporter Felice Leon respectfully asked the mindful question about the lack of dark-skinned Latinx people in the film. Chu and the cast tried their best to answer the question, but colorism is a topic that is often swept under the rug when it comes to Hollywood — but it is an issue that needs to be unpacked. Not only with the Latinx community but also in the Asian, Black, Native and other communities where dark-skinned people are often overlooked and oftentimes erased.
"I do hope to see my brothers and sisters that are darker than me lead these movies." — @lesliegrace#InTheHeightsMovie is a breakthrough film in many ways when it comes to representation, but one question remains: where are the darker-skinned Afro-Latinx folks? pic.twitter.com/yfa2e80HEu
— The Root (@TheRoot) June 9, 2021
Many have told me that Washington Heights in New York is filled with a diverse mix of culture, primarily a diverse mix of Latinx people. Although the film addresses this, we barely see any dark-skinned Afro-Latinos which are a vibrant part of this community. One friend told me, “To have a story that is about Dominicans set in Washington Heights and then cast a bunch of Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Argentinians is odd.”
In a time when authenticity in Hollywood is paramount, this is a speed bump. It’s great to have representation, but we must move out of the mindset of what white people think representation is and what WE know what representation is. Many Asians have even brought up the fact how Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians is largely focused on East Asians and never really puts the spotlight on dark-skinned South and Southeast Asians — except for that one scene with the South Asians guards that welcome Constance Wu and Awkwafina to that rich-people party… this is a whole other conversation, but is relevant to this one.
Nonetheless, it didn’t take long for Miranda to respectfully address the situation. He sent out a tweet that said he wrote In The Heights to “feel seen”. He wanted the entire community to feel seen, but with the lack of Afro-Latinos in major roles, he admits that the movie “fell short.”
“I hear that without sufficient dark-skinned Afro-Latino representation, the work feels extractive of the community,” he wrote. “We wanted so much to represent with pride and joy.”
“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,” Miranda wrote.
Miranda did exactly what needed to be done about the situation. He held himself accountable. He addressed the problem. He recoginzed it. He said that he will do better. You can accept this or not, but all we can do is trust his words. Trust and believe: Miranda is doing way more than any other white person would do in this situation. He has the empathy and hopefully it will reflect in his next piece of work. This goes for Chu as well.
Of course, the conversation about this has been taken over Twitter. Many people have hot takes and others are just spouting off words just to hear themselves — which does absolutely nothing at all.
The best and most constructive response comes from Pose co-creator Steven Canals: “All the discourse about the lack of Afro-Latin representation has me thinking.. a lot. Here’s the thing: 2 truths can exist. We can be happy to see a film with a nearly entire Latin cast AND also identify gaps within that work. They aren’t mutually exclusive.”
All the discourse about the lack of Afro-Latin representation has me thinking.. a lot. Here’s the thing: 2 truths can exist. We can be happy to see a film with a nearly entire Latin cast AND also identify gaps within that work. They aren’t mutually exclusive.
— Steven Canals (@StevenCanals) June 14, 2021
That said, you can love or leave In the Heights, but it’s okay to recognize the joy in this film and the progress it will bring to the culture, but at the same time we can respectfully unpack issues within marginalized communities that have been largely overlooked.