Movie musicals made an energetic return to the big screen this past weekend with the release of In the Heights, the highly anticipated off-Broadway adapted musical from Lin-Manuel Miranda set over the course of three days involving characters living in Washington Heights. But while the movie was celebrated by some for its on-screen representation, some viewers criticized the film for its lack of dark-skinned Afro-Latino representation among the leading cast. Miranda is now speaking out over the controversy, admitting he is "truly sorry."
Miranda — who created the smash hit for off-Broadway, produced and starred in the film — took to social media on Monday night apologizing after the movie's director Jon M. Chu, along with cast members Melissa Barrera and Leslie Grace, were questioned about casting choices and colorism. "I started writing In The Heights because I didn't feel seen. And over the past 20 years, all I wanted was for us — ALL of us-to feel seen," Miranda wrote. "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."
The award-winning artist and composer added how he can "hear the hurt" and "frustration" over the issue in terms of feeling unseen. "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," he wrote, adding how "in trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short."
"I'm truly sorry," the 41-year-old wrote. "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. Siempre, LMM."
During press junkets last week, The Root's Felice León spoke to Chu along with two of his stars Barrera and Grace about colorism and the lack of Afro-Latino actors placed within the leading roles. León, who identifies as a "Black woman of Cuban descent" inquired over the "lack of Black Latinx people represented" in the film in light of how the main cast were either "light-skinned or white-passing Latinx people."
Though Chu responded it was "something we talked about" and admitted an aspect he needed to be "more educated about," it was decided in the end that they were "trying to get the people who were best for those roles and that specifically, and we saw a lot of people, people like Daphne [Rubin-Vega] or Dascha [Polanco]." Chu reiterated that he heard the concern of filling "those cast members with darker-skinned [actors]," stating he thinks it's a "really good conversation to have, something that we should all be talking about."
While Barrera, who plays Vanessa in the movie, stated that "it's important to note" how "there were a lot of Afro-Latinos" at the audition process, she says at the end of the day, "they were looking for just the right people for the roles, for the person that embodied each character in the fullest extent."
She continued: "I think we are all very much like our characters, so much so that a lot of times it didn't even feel like we were acting, they just kind of let us live in there," Barrera continued. "And because the cast ended up being us, and Washington Heights is a melting pot of Black and Latinx people, Jon and Lin wanted the dancers and the big numbers to feel very truthful to what the community looks like."
The movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's 2008 Tony-winning musical In the Heights from director Jon M. Chu, is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.