In The Heights controversy: What’s going on with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new film?

The film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical has been accused of colourism


In The Heights, the film adaptation of the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical of the same name, is in the midst of controversy surrounding its casting choices.

In The Heights is a musical centred around the mostly Dominican community in the Washington Heights neighbourhood of Upper Manhattan in New York City. It tells of their lives, jobs and relationships as they all share their hopes and dreams. It’s incredibly vibrant and full of life, and the soundtrack is incredible. Fans have been desperate for a film adaptation for sometime.

However, there’s been criticism of the film’s casting, which has been accused of colourism. Colourism is where people of colour with darker skin tones face further discrimination over those with lighter skin tones. In The Heights has come under fire for colourism due to the cast seemingly excluding Afro-Latinos, which doesn’t accurately represent the diversity of its setting of Washington Heights.

The conversation started after an interview with director Jon M. Chu (known for Crazy Rich Asians), where The Root’s Felice Léon asked him “What are your thoughts on the lack of Black Latinx people represented in your film?”

Chu was clearly unprepared, and replied: “That was something that we talked about and that I needed to be educated about. In the end, when we were looking at the cast, we tried to get the people who were best for those roles.”

His response garnered further criticism on social media:

Responding to the criticism, creator and producer Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted an apology:

“I can hear the hurt and frustration over colorism, of feeling unseen in the feedback.

“In trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short. I’m truly sorry … 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.”

In The Heights opens on 18th June in cinemas, almost a year after its original premiere date of 20th June 2020 was postponed due to the impact of the pandemic. It is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical, receiving acclaim and Tony Award accolades way before his success with Hamilton.

Despite the controversy, the film adaptation has received critical acclaim and has a 96 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus saying”Lights up for In The Heights, a joyous celebration of heritage and community fuelled by dazzling direction and singalong songs.”

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