Rita Moreno Is “Disappointed” By Her Initial Reaction To The In The Heights Controversy

Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival.
Updated June 17, 2021: Rita Moreno is walking back her controversial response to the In the Heights backlash and apologizing — sort of.
Just one day after her appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the Hollywood legend has changed her stance on the discourse about In the Heights' unfortunate erasure of the neighborhood's Afro-Latinx culture. She addressed her polarizing reaction in a new Twitter thread, saying that she now regrets responding to the community's valid feelings that way.
"I’m incredibly disappointed with myself," wrote Moreno on her social media. "While making a statement in defense of Lin-Manuel Miranda on the Colbert Show last night, I was clearly dismissive of [the] black lives that matter in our Latin community. It is so easy to forget how celebration for some is lament for others."
Moreno also acknowledged Lin Manuel Miranda's statement on the discourse, cheering on his desire to be more inclusive and vowing to do the same in the future.
"In addition to applauding Lin for his wonderful movie version of In The Heights, let me add my appreciation for his sensitivity and resolve to be more inclusive of the Afro-Latino community going forward," concluded the Twitter thread. "See, you CAN teach this old dog new tricks."
Though there wasn't exactly an apology in Moreno's statement, the tweets do include her cognizance of the Afro-Latinx community's valid feelings on the matter at hand. And acknowledging that disparity and the frustrations that stem from it is an important first step in a long process of cultural healing.
This story was originally published on June 16, 2021.
As the spirited conversation about the relationship between Afro-Latinx people and In the Heights continues, Hollywood icon Rita Moreno is now adding her two cents to the discourse. And what she has to say about the controversy isn't exactly sitting well with people within her community.
Since In the Heights premiered last week in theaters and on HBO Max, many would-be fans of the Lin Manuel Miranda creation have since taken to the internet to discuss their frustrations about its depiction of life in the Heights, specifically with its failure to highlight the darker-skinned people living within the New York City neighborhood. Though the real-life Manhattan enclave boasts a significant Afro-Latinx population, the film didn't really speak to that reality, choosing instead to cast lighter Latinx actors to bring the vibe of the neighborhood to life. When the issue was brought up in a now-viral interview on The Root, director Jon M. Chu and much of the cast didn't have a real response to the concerns; rather, they claimed that the "best people" had been chosen for the part.
Miranda later released a statement addressing the colorism discourse on social media, apologizing for his role in further isolating Afro-Latinx people in his community. But Moreno, a maverick in terms of representation of Latinx people in Hollywood, doesn't agree with the apology— in fact, she doesn't think the dialogue is necessary at all.
During a recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the EGOT actress said that she was "upset" by the backlash against Miranda and In the Heights. To Moreno, the outcry about colorism isn't important or timely.
“I’m simply saying, can’t you just wait a while and leave it alone?” she remarked on the show. “There’s a lot of people who are puertorriqueño, who are also from Guatemala, who are dark and who are also fair. We are all colors in Puerto Rico.”
"This is how it is," Moreno continued. "It would just be so nice if they hadn’t come up with that and left that alone, just for now. They’re really attacking the wrong person.”
Moreno has been advocating for the increased representation of Latinx people in Hollywood for almost all of her career; her recent documentary Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It revealed how challenging it's always been to be a Latinx person in the entertainment industry, touching on various instances of racism and discrimination that she's faced over the years. Nothing can ever take away from that history of passionate advocacy and the legacy that Moreno has established — if anything, that only makes the points being raised about Afro-Latinx representation and erasure that much stronger.
There are certain groups that have consistently been left out Hollywood stories for as long as we've been watching television and film. As the industry makes a belated attempt to diversify these narratives, it's important to understand that representation isn't a one-size-fits-all situation. All people, especially those who have historically been marginalized, deserve nuanced depictions of our lives and our realities. And there's no better time than now to make that happen.
The idea that representation has to happen in waves, especially in 2021, for everyone to see themselves onscreen is antiquated and quite frankly untrue. There are so many talented dark-skinned filmmakers, screenwriters, actors, and other creatives from various backgrounds who have the skill set and the expansive imagination to share their stories with the world right now. Telling them to wait in line for their turn isn't just a disservice to them but also to the industry and a culture that needs them.

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