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‘In the Heights’ repeats lengthy conversations about colorism in the Latinx community

Chapman cried when she saw “In The Heights” on Broadway in college, the first time she had ever felt her neighborhood and her people reflected on stage. She cried when she saw the recent film adaptation in the theaters.

But as much as she loved the movie, Chapman could not help but feel that “the ball was dropped” by throwing its leaders.

“Washington Heights is a real place with real people,” she said. “When you walk through this neighborhood, it does not reflect on the screen what it looks like.”

Chapman’s critique ̵
1; that “In The Heights” lacks dark-skinned Afro-Latinx characters in lead roles – repeats a point that many in the Latin American diaspora have made since the trailer came out in 2019.

Now that “In The Heights” has hit the big (and small) screen, the film resumes important conversations about colorism, anti-blackness and representation in the Latinx community.

And for Chapman and other Afro-Latinx people in the entertainment industry, it’s complicated.

‘In The Heights’ is groundbreaking

Even those with criticism of the film recognize how important “In The Heights” is for Latinx representation.

The characters are young, old, undocumented, first generation college students, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Cuban. They eat ropa vieja sprinkled with olives and flan coated with caramel. They struggle with push and pull from home, the opportunities denied to them without papers, and the pressure that comes with making it out of the neighborhood.

'In the Heights' director Jon M. Chu: 'The American dream is not a given'

These various depictions illuminate an often overlooked truth about Latinx society: that there is no Latinx history.

Grasie Mercedes, an Afro-Latin actress and author of The Dominican Legacy, says she was so overwhelmed by emotion while watching the film that she cried “several times, even the parts where one should not”.

“I joined this film on so many levels,” she said. “It’s the first time I see people like my family on TV. It’s the first time I see the food we eat on a movie. This is the first time I see it on screen, and I’ve never had it. . “

Henry Alexander Kelly, an Afro-Latinx actor and author born of Nicaragua’s parents, says it “encapsulated my existence.”

“The amount of Latinx representation on screen is incredible,” he added.

But it is missing in some ways

For the whole earth “In The Heights” revolves around Latinx representation and visibility, some fans feel that they missed an opportunity to fight long-standing issues of colorism in Latinx society and Hollywood as a whole.

Although several people have noticed how important it is to see Leslie Grace, who identifies as Afro-Latina, plays Nina Rosario, “In The Heights” features no dark-skinned, Afro-Latinx artists or characters in lead roles.
This decision was detrimental to some, as dark-skinned actors often struggle to land Latinx parts because they do not fit the stereotypical image.
Corey Hawkins as Benny, Gregory Diaz IV as Sonny and Anthony Ramos as Usnavi in

“It would have been nice to see at least one of the leaders be an Afro-Latinx person with dark skin to really represent the people who are always shut out,” Mercedes said.

In a recent interview with The Root, director Jon M. Chu noted that when we cast the main parts, “we were looking for the people who were best for these roles specifically.” He also pointed to the many Afro-Latinx background dancers with darker skin – which for some was precisely the problem.

“We’ve been able to be the dancers, we’ve been in hair salons, and this and that,” replied Felice León, a journalist for The Root. “But a lead, it’s the breakthrough.”

Afro-Latinx people are tired of being told to keep supporting projects that refer them to the sidelines and keep waiting for their turn, Chapman said.

These leaders say Latinos must also recognize their racism

“It makes those who are browner feel like stepchildren,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get a new toy soon. Even though we’ ve had hand-down downs our real lives all our lives. “

Then there was the decision to cut a story that would have touched on racism and anti-blackness in Latinx society.

In the theatrical production of “In The Heights,” Nina’s father rejects his relationship with Benny, who is black and whom her father considers an outsider in the neighborhood. This subplot did not reach the filming.

Although it is unclear why the story was cut, Chapman said she found the omission particularly disappointing.

“Unfortunately, we are afraid to take those risks sometimes,” she said.

The film is kept to an impossible standard

Like other stories of marginalized groups that have come before it, “In The Heights” falls victim to the almost impossible expectation of encapsulating all the countries, ethnicities, skin tones, and experiences that make up the large Latinx population.

That’s what happens when so few of these stories are told in the first place. White artists, Mercedes and others argue, are not held to the same standards.

“We learn that there are only a few crumbs left for us, and then we now fight against each other to grab those crumbs,” she said. “So everything a colored person does is kept to this insane standard, where we have to get everything exactly right, and if we don’t, hell breaks loose.”

Because not everyone is given the opportunity to tell stories on such an important platform, however, Chapman feels that creators of color bear a greater responsibility to their society – as unfair as it may seem.

“I really, really feel like we owe it to ourselves and our community to do the work, especially if we cry because our white colleagues have to do the work,” she added.

Lin-Manuel Miranda seems to be listening.

In a note posted to social media this week, the creator of “In The Heights” apologized for what some saw as inadequate representation of dark-skinned Afro-Latinx people and promised to do better.
Lin-Manuel Miranda apologizes 'In The Heights' 'fell short' for representing dark-skinned Afro-Latinos

“I try to make room for both the incredible pride in the film we made and be responsible for our shortcomings,” he wrote. “Thank you for your honest feedback. I promise to do better in my future projects and I am dedicated to the learning and development we all need to do to ensure we honor our diverse and vibrant communities.”

But fans say audiences still need to see it

For all the valid and important criticism that had to be made about the film, however, Afro-Latinx actors and writers stressed to CNN that these conversations should not deter people from watching and supporting “In The Heights.”
'This is also a face from Latinidad': How Gina Torres got producers to rethink their ideas about American beauty

“We can not let this stop us from supporting a film like this, because then we will not get the films we want. We will not get the TV shows we want,” Mercedes said. “The more we remove the successes we have, the harder it becomes for us to have any success at all.”

Although “In The Heights” is not perfect, it is a “great movie,” Chapman said.

“It’s beautifully told. It’s shot beautifully,” she added. “The people in it are talented and they deserve to be seen and celebrated for their hard work and everything they put in.”

Hollywood has a long way to go in representing dark-haired Afro-Latinos. But the solution still involves having these difficult and complicated conversations.

Because, as Chapman and others said, it is possible to love something and still want it to be better.

“In the Heights” is distributed by Warner Bros., which like CNN is part of WarnerMedia.

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