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Rita Moreno, Lin-Manuel Miranda Respond to Accusations of Colorism in In the Heights

Critics say that the new movie fails to represent Afro-Latino people

rita moreno lin-manuel miranda colorism in the heights controversy
Rita Moreno on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (photo by Gage Skidmore)
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    Rita Moreno is coming to her friend Lin-Manuel Miranda’s defense amid accusations of colorism in the new adaptation of his musical In the Heights. During her recent guest appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Moreno said that she was “really upset” about critiques that the film failed to accurately represent the Afro-Latino population of Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood.

    “You can never do right, it seems,” Moreno said. “This is the man who literally has brought Latino-ness and Puerto Rican-ness to America. I couldn’t do it. I mean, I would love to say I did, but I couldn’t. Lin-Manuel has done that, really single-handedly, and I’m thrilled to pieces.”

    Moreno, who was born in Puerto Rico, is known for her role as Anita in the 1962 film West Side Story. She continued, “There’s a lot of people who are Puerto Rican who are also from Guatemala who are dark and who are also fair. We are all colors in Puerto Rico. This is how it is. It would be so nice if they hadn’t come up with that and left it alone, just for now. They’re really attacking the wrong person.”

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    Update: In a statement issued Wednesday night, Moreno apologized for the “dismissive” comments she made on Colbert. “I’m incredibly disappointed with myself. While making a statement in defense of Lin Manuel Miranda on the Colbert Show last night, I was clearly dismissive of black lives that matter in our Latin community,” she said. “It is so easy to forget how celebration for some is lament for others. In addition to applauding Lin for his wonderful movie version of In the Heights, let me add my appreciation for his sensitivity and resolve to be more inclusive of the Afro-Latino community going forward. See, you CAN teach this old dog new tricks.”

    Miranda, who co-produced Moreno’s new documentary Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It, addressed the criticisms Monday in a message on Twitter. “I started writing In the Heights because I didn’t feel seen,” he wrote. “And over the past 20 years all I wanted was for us – ALL of us – to feel seen. I’m seeing the discussion around Afro-Latino representation in our film this weekend and it is clear that many in our dark-skinned Afro-Latino community don’t feel sufficiently represented within it, particularly among the leading roles.”

    Miranda continued: “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. In trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short. I’m truly sorry. I’m learning from the feedback, I thank you for raising it, and I’m listening. I’m trying to hold space for both the incredible pride in the movie we made and be accountable for our shortcomings. Thanks for your honest feedback. 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.”

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    Miranda spoke further on the In the Heights criticism during his Tuesday appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. “All I want is for this neighborhood to feel seen,” Miranda said. “And if there’s a segment of it that doesn’t feel seen and they’re saying that, you have to acknowledge that and let it in. All I can do is learn from it and promise to do better.” You can watch both Moreno and Miranda’s interviews below.

    In the Heights is now playing in select theaters, and is available to stream on HBO Max. Later this year, Moreno will return to the musical that made her famous, playing a new role in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. As for Miranda, he’ll soon be making his directorial debut in the cinematic adaptation of tick, tick… BOOM!

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