In The Heights, which premiered last Friday, June 11, did not get the warm box office welcome that was anticipated, especially from the Black community. Following its release, the Afro-Latinx community noticed that the Washington Heights-set film favored actors of a lighter complexion and didn’t accurately represent the Latin community as a whole.
With cast members including Anthony Ramos, Stephanie Beatriz and Melissa Barrera, many have called out the overrepresentation of white-passing or lighter-skinned Latin actors and actresses. The Black and Afro-Latinx communities expressed their outrage for the film’s lack of representation for darker-skinned Latinos and Latinas, which caught the eye of creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.
In his statement issued via social media, Miranda started to explain how the concept of In The Heights came about, and that it was birthed from the notion that he “didn’t feel seen.” Though he continued to share his mission of wanting “ALL of us” to feel seen, Miranda acknowledged the discussions circling around about colorism and dark-skinned Afro-Latinos—especially when it came to leading roles.
“I can hear the hurt and frustration over colorism, of feeling still unseen in the feedback. I hear that without sufficient dark-skinned Afro-Latino representation, the work feels extractive of the community we wanted so much to represent with pride and joy,” his statement continued. “In trying to paint this mosaic of this community, we fell short. I’m truly sorry.”
Prior to the Hamilton playwright’s apology, Felice León, writer and correspondent from The Root, spoke with the cast and creators of In The Heights. Her interview, “In The Heights and the Erasure of Dark-Skinned Afro-Latinxs,” went viral on Twitter following León’s conversation with Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins and Barrera about lighter-skinned privilege. As an Afro-Cubana from New York City herself, León asked the hard-hitting questions that viewers wanted to know the answers to: Where are all of the leading dark-skinned Afro-Latinx folks?
When director John M. Chu was asked by León about the principal actors being lighter-skinned or white passing, and his thoughts on the lack of Black Latinx persons on-screen, he responded: “In the end, when we were looking at the cast, we tried to get the people who were best for those roles.” He continued to pose the question, “Did you not see the dancers as well?,” to which León noted that those background roles are positions that Black and Afro-Latinxs “have been able to fill.”
According to Business Insider, the film ‘underwhelmed’ during its premiere weekend, only pulling in $11 million. In a recent Instagram post, podcaster and Don’t Waste Your Pretty creator Demetria L. Lucas shared her thoughts on the backlash of the film and why, according to Variety, the film did not do as well as to be expected.
“Here’s where #intheheights went wrong: Black representation wasn’t important to the creators? Ok. Supporting this film wasn’t important to Black folks,” Lucas’ caption read. “Also, the largely “liberal” “ally”- audience that was also going to support this film, doesn’t want to look racist supporting it when The Blacks are angry about it.”
Check out the response from our Supervising Producer Yazmin Ramos in the video above.