The Latinx community DOES NOT agree on In the Heights and that’s a good thing – let’s confront the colorism in our community and hold even our heroes/stars/favorites accountable. So now that everyone from Bill Maher to Rita Moreno has weighed in, we knew we needed to update our record with another What Latinas Have to Say, this time not just featuring the critics who got to see the film early but rather centering the conversation between Latinas as the film actually came out. Here goes:
We have to start with Felice León’s viral interview for The Root with In the Heights director Jon M. Chu and female leads Melissa Barrera and Leslie Grace. If you haven’t seen it already, there’s a lot of obnoxious, problematic shit in there, like Barrera insisting that the light-skinned leads were simply the best and racism had nothing to do with it. Or Chu gaslighting us by saying the conversation around colorism is ‘important to have’ but then not actually having. Huge props to Felice León for fearlessly asking the hard questions. Watch the full video and read her accompanying write up.
In an opinion piece for CNN, Natasha S. Alford tackles Rita Moreno’s comments on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, arguing “legendary Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno essentially told those objecting to the dearth of dark-skinned Afro-Latinx actors in the cast of the musical to take a seat.” Moreno has since apologies but Alford’s article is still an important read, outlining the tensions within the Latinx community around so much discussing race, let alone addressing the inequities Black Latinxs face. Read her full piece.
Kathia Woods also helped contextualize what is going on with colorism in the film and the dynamics of the conversation around it for Digital Spy. She asks, “Can a movie be everything to everyone? No, but when making a movie about a specific location, it’s important to be authentic. Failure to emulate the authenticity of such a community invites criticism. The issue is that simply stating that representation exists does not make it so.” Read her full coverage.
Dr. Jasmine Haywood brings her scholarship on the issue of Afro-Latinx erasure to this piece for Vox, also making it personal: “As I watched the movie over the weekend with my two Afro-Latinx children, I had a deep yearning to be able to point to one of the lead characters and say, ‘Look, they look like we do!’ Unfortunately, that moment never came.” Read her full piece.
And colorism isn’t the only problem. In The Mary Sue, media critic Lyra Hale wishes “there were more clear moments in In the Heights where all the joy they feel in their life together is something the viewer can feel and not confuse it with business partners just being cheeky with each other. [And I have to question] what stopped In the Heights from giving Daniela and Carla the same respect the heterosexual couples got in this movie and its musical numbers?” Read her full review.
And of all that is without talking about how the film performed at the box office! Did In the Heights ‘underperform’ because it failed to actually represent the group it claimed to? Or is the whole ticket-counting game rigged against POC content? Or both? We’re not sure but we’ve certainly learned a lesson about this tiny cultural gate we maintain at LatinaMedia.Co and not falling into the trap of letting those with establishment credentials define our conversations! Consider this another, better entry in our What Latinas Have to Say column.