In the Heights Disappoints: Colorism is the Issue

Miranda’s original Broadway debut receives unexpected criticism in the film version.

Student Commentary

By Ilenia Reale / Matthew staff

Poster design by eclipse

I am a big fan of the musical Hamilton, a product of the creative genius Lin-Manuel Miranda. I was also convinced that Hamilton was the first project produced by Miranda; however, I found out that the work that actually affirmed Miranda’s fundamental position on Broadway was the musical In the Heights.

Trailer of In The Heights

In the Heights first debuted in 2005 on a stage in Connecticut, but has now made a huge come-back on the big screen in 2021. Everyone was very excited about this film adaptation, but many were actually disappointed. According to The New York Times, that wasn’t because of the movie per se, but rather because of the lack of racial diversity of the cast, something that Miranda had previously been praised for in the award-winning musical Hamilton.

Foto di ATC Comm Photo da Pexels

The musical follows the story of Usnavi, a bodega owner of Dominican origins who lives in Washington Heights, a neighborhood on the north of Manhattan. As reported by Associated Press, the criticism is targeted towards the lack of representation of dark-skinned Latinx in leading roles, which actually make up a great part of the community. The problem here isn’t racism, but rather colorism which consists of the discrimination of darker-skinned individuals within the same ethnic group.

Darker-skinned actors have a place within the movie but mainly fill in stereotypical roles in the background. For instance, many black Latinxs are characters that, as an ensemble, are part of the dancing crew or work in hair salons.

Miranda was very concerned with the feedback and actually posted some public responses on Twitter to address this delicate situation.

Miranda’s response to criticism

I appreciate the way that Miranda approached the issue as he welcomed constructive criticism to improve his future work in the name of inclusivity. After all, diversity has always been one of his key goals.

Even though Miranda never showed signs of resentment towards the public because of the critics, other celebrities still felt the need to side with him and defend him from the “unfair” complaints. This is the case of renowned Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno who, during an appearance on The Late Night Show, expressed her admiration for Miranda for giving such visibility to Latinxs and pointing out that Miranda is not the right person to attack.

Interview with Rita Moreno

After these comments, Moreno received a harsh backlash and was accused of not acknowledging the issue of colorism present in the musical. According to Insider, however, the actress has changed her mind and has apologized recognizing that, “It is so easy to forget how celebration for some is lament for others.”

Moreno’s behavior is representative of a great part of the community. In fact, most of the time we’d rather focus on small accomplishments than on the deeper issues that we end up ignoring. Even though Mirandas’s In The Heights is indeed a step forward towards inclusivity, there is still a lot to do.

Colorism is an issue that we need to address rather than avoid because it makes us uncomfortable. Acknowledging that it exists is the first step to achieving more complete inclusivity.