Rita Moreno defends ‘In The Heights’ amid colorism controversy: ‘Can’t you wait a while’

“Can we talk for a second about that criticism about Lin-Manuel? That really upsets me,” said Moreno.

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According to Rita Moreno, the timing surrounding the criticism of In the Heights is inconvenient and misguided.

During a June 15th sit down on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the actress said the timing of the feedback surrounding the lack of dark-skinned Afro-Latinos in the film was off and people should just leave it alone.

Rita Moreno thegrio.com
Rita Moreno onstage during the Rita Moreno Puerto Rican Day Parade Celebration during the 2021 Tribeca Festival on June 13, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival)

“Can we talk for a second about that criticism about Lin-Manuel? That really upsets me,” said Moreno. “You can never do right, it seems. [Lin-Manuel Miranda] is the man who literally has brought Latino-ness and Puerto Rican-ness to America. I couldn’t do it. I would love to say I did, but I couldn’t. Lin-Manuel has done that really singlehandedly, and I’m thrilled to pieces and I’m proud that he produced my documentary.”

The Oscar winning actress is promoting her documentary titled Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It. The project is executive produced by In the Heights creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.

When Colbert asked her to clarify her statement, she added: “I’m simply saying, 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, just for now. I mean, they’re really attacking the wrong person.”

Social media instantly attacked Moreno’s comments.

“I love Rita Moreno but this is the opposite of it. We have had a century of movie roles being reserved for the lightest skinned Latino, Black & Asian ppl. This is not breaking new ground & there is nothing for dark skinned ppl to be waiting for,” activist Bree Newsome tweeted.

“*light skinned people cast in 3736636278383663727 latino tv/film projects* *backlash erupts after light skinned people cast in film about predominately afro-latinx neighborhood* rita moreno: “you can never do right, it seems”,” added Jules.

Moreno may not understand why representation is important in films but Lin-Manuel apologized for missing the mark, per theGrio. The lack of dark-skinned Afro-Latino actors in In the Heights trended on Twitter for the entire weekend of its release. On Monday, Miranda penned a lengthy apology for it.

“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,” he 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.”

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

“In trying to paint a mosaic of this community,” he noted, “we fell short.” 

Lin Miranda thegrio.com
Lin-Manuel Miranda (center) is surrounded by cast and friends at the opening-night premiere of “In The Heights” during the 2021 Tribeca Festival last week in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

He said he’s learning from the feedback and that he promises to “do better” in future projects. 

In an exclusive recent interview with TheGrio, two In the Heights cast members said the diversity in the film was just the beginning. 

Corey Hawkins, who is Black, said, “I remember growing up as a Black man in D.C., Black boy in D.C., and seeing a lot of white faces on television and a screen. Sometimes you start to think that you need to aspire to something that is other than yourself. I’m so fortunate, and we’re so fortunate, we live in a world and time where this amount of change is happening. This amount of representation is being put out there.”

TheGrio’s Mariel Turner and Biba Adams contributed to this report. 

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