If you haven’t already heard, the Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda has taken his critically-acclaimed musical In the Heights to the big screen. It was released last week in theaters and on HBO Max, and it seems that it’s all anyone can talk about. But the conversations don’t just focus on the film’s material; In the Heights is being criticized for its problematic colorism.
Miranda first found success after writing In the Heights in 2005, which then made its way to Broadway in 2008. The musical surrounds the Latinx community in Washington Heights, and the narrative follows a range of characters, all with different dreams and struggles.
Miranda’s fame grew with the success of Hamilton. The musical received praise for its ingenuity and diverse casting of Latinx and Black performers for the roles of America’s white founding fathers.
Like Miranda’s other works, his new movie displays a deeply talented cast with eloquently written songs. However, the film adaptation of In the Heights has been receiving plenty of criticism as well.
Colorism in ‘In the Heights,’ Lin-Manuel Miranda responds
A lot of people feel that In the Heights failed to adequately represent the Afro-Latino population of Washington Heights. Lin-Manuel Miranda intended for the musical and movie to artistically and accurately portray a community that society often ignores.
He tells Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, “Your job as an artist is to write what’s missing. All I want is for this neighborhood [Washington Heights] to feel seen.”
Unfortunately, Miranda fell short. The Latinx community is a diverse group, so many argue that the makers of In the Heights were practicing colorism by omitting dark-skinned and Afro-Latinx actors.
For those who don’t know, Alice Walker coined the term “Colorism” to describe how people of color with lighter skin may experience more privilege than people of color with darker skin.
Three days after the film’s release, Miranda tweeted an apology statement:
Reframing his mistakes
We can learn from Miranda’s mistakes, as he would wish us to, but we can also learn from his progressive response to criticism.
In Miranda’s interview on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, he responds to these critiques thoughtfully as he did in his apology statement.
When asked about the Afro-Latinx community who spoke up about not feeling seen in In The Heights, Miranda replies, “You have to acknowledge that and let it in…all I can do is learn from it and promise to do better. When you make something, you’re creating a frame,” and you have to acknowledge when you’ve left people out of that frame.
Miranda cannot take back the mistakes he made with the film, but he can apply what he’s learned to his next project. He tells The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,
I’m happy to take the learning from it and bring that to the next one and also Hold space to be proud of the thing we made that has been half my life. I have to be able to hold both those things because they’re both true.Lin-Manuel Miranda
Despite his shortcomings, Miranda promises to improve. This open-mindedness can only bolster his talent as an artist.
Whether it is a musical or movie, In The Heights and others need to preach accuracy and inclusivity, and to be conscience about colorism. I think I speak for most of us when I say we’re eager to see what he comes up with next.