Will anything ever be enough to satisfy the woke mob? One might think that a cast filled with non-white actors might win them over. Or, maybe a movie celebrating immigrants and Latino culture and identity could excite? But of course not, that would make far too much sense.
Movie-musical “In the Heights” is under fire for “insufficient representation” in the cast. Apparently, having a black and Latino cast is no longer sufficient, as intersectionality dictates that this one film is responsible for depicting the entire breadth of identities present in Washington Heights.
In an interview with director John Chu, The Root reporter Felice Leon questioned, “It would be remiss of me not to mention that most of your principal actors were light-skinned or white-passing Latinx people. So with that, what are your thoughts on the lack of black Latinx people represented in the film?” Chu responded that he believes that this is “a really good conversation to have.”
Read the replies.
"In the Heights" was fresh when it premiered on Bway 13 years ago.
But this film adaptation, with its Latino writer, Asian director, and all-minority cast, isn't "Woke" enough for this era.
These people poison everything. https://t.co/cxwJ67v3c2
— Clifton Duncan: BFA, MFA, FHRiTP (@cliftonaduncan) June 14, 2021
How is it more “progressive” to cast based on identity and skin tone, rather than merely judge who is the most talented? The ensemble of “In the Heights” was made up of gifted actors, singers, and dancers, most of whom embodied their roles with depth and honesty, while singing the gorgeous score beautifully. Nowhere in this debate is it mentioned that the actors are undeserving of their roles or play the parts poorly. The only reasons some give as to why they ought not have been cast are race and precise skin color.
Moreover, why does one film have to capture the entire complexity of a group of people? No one film or musical is ever going to be able to encompass the entirety of a groups’ varied experiences, nor should that be expected. “In the Heights” is one movie about a group of characters and their experiences. While the broader community of Washington Heights is important to the musical, it never professes to be the definitive work.
Several cast members next weighed in on the concept, starting with Latin-pop singer Leslie Grace, who played coprotagonist Nina. Grace, who identifies as Afro-Latina, expressed agreement with the importance of representation. She spoke to Harper’s Bazaar on the subject, saying “[The film’s Afro-Latinx presence] was definitely something that I was super mindful of as I was embodying Nina.”
Melissa Barrera, who played the lead Vanessa, defended the casting choices, saying, “I think it’s important to note that it was a long audition process. There were a lot of Afro-Latinos there, a lot of darker-skinned people, and I think they were looking for just the right people for the roles, for the person who embodied the character to the fullest extent.”
Rather than stand up for his film or realize the patent absurdity of the criticisms, the musical’s writer and original star Lin-Manuel Miranda took to Twitter to post a lengthy apology, in which he expressed his “incredible pride” in the film and its perceived failures of representation and “colorism.”
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) June 14, 2021
Actress Rita Moreno, however, disagreed with the backlash against the movie, as she told Stephen Colbert. She brought up the subject while promoting her upcoming documentary, asking, “Can we talk for a second about that criticism about Lin-Manuel? That really upsets me.”
She pushed back on the criticism leveled against the film, exclaiming, “Can’t you just wait a while and leave it alone? There’s a lot of people who are ‘puertorriqueños,’ who are also from Guatemala, who are dark, and who are also fair. We are all colors in Puerto Rico. And this is how it is, and it would be so nice if they hadn’t come up with that and just left it alone.”
— The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) June 16, 2021
Moreno faced backlash for her comments from the same people angry about the movie. Unfortunately, she caved to the pressure and backtracked, claiming she is “incredibly disappointed” in herself, tweeting that her comments were “clearly dismissive of black lives that matter in our Latin community. It is so easy to forget how celebration for some is lament for others.”
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. It is so easy to forget how celebration for some is lament for others.
— Rita Moreno (@TheRitaMoreno) June 17, 2021
This defense from Moreno would have made a major difference in the conversation. She is an icon of both Classic Hollywood and early Latina representation, and support from so prominent a voice may have helped others who covertly agreed to publicly take a stand. Her comments on Colbert made it clear that she understands how absurd the whole controversy is. It’s a shame that she instead backed down.
Even if the ridiculous criticism was made a valid point, which it doesn’t, it would still be factually inaccurate. Cory Hawkins, who plays secondary leading man Benny, is black, and aside from the aforementioned Grace, central supporting characters Graffiti Pete and Cuca are played by the Afro-Latino Noah Catala and Dasha Polanco.
The minutia of an actor’s genetic background should not matter, and ticking off identity boxes is offensive and insane. Sadly, this is what contemporary identity politics demands. If even an incredibly diverse film featuring woke politics and broad representation both in front of and behind the camera cannot satisfy the mob, nothing ever will.