Rita Moreno apologizes for defending colorism in ‘In The Heights’

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Since the release of In The Heights last Friday, there is has been an uproar over the lack of representation of the Afro-Latinx diaspora of Washington Heights. Lin Manuel Miranda released a statement on Twitter apologizing for the oversight. Several of the actors from the movie along with director Jon M. Chu made a sh*t show of an interview in which questions were asked about the lack of dark-skinned Latinx in major roles. Now, EGOT Rita Moreno has had to apologize for insensitive comments she madeon The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. When Stephen asked Rita about the controversy, Rita, being eager to defend LMM, said you can’t satisfy everyone and folks should just leave it alone. She’s since apologized, saying that she was being “dismissive of black lives that matter in our Latin community.” Below are a few more highlights via Yahoo!:

Praising Miranda for bringing “Latinoness and Puerto Rican-ness to America,” Moreno stated that, “You can never do right, it seems…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.”

Moreno has now said that she finds these comments—which were criticized online, and which stood in contrast to Miranda himself, who has apologized for the film’s handling of race and skin color—“clearly dismissive of black lives that matter in our Latin community.” While noting that she intended her statements on Colbert as a defense of Miranda (who, among other things, recently co-produced a new documentary about her), Moreno stated that, “It is so easy to forget how celebration for some is lament for others.”

[From Yahoo!]

The lesson to be learned here is not to have a knee jerk reaction to constructive criticism. People rightly were upset because they felt erased from their own story. Perhaps Rita and Lin didn’t see how they erased an entire group of people because they themselves were represented. I also found it quite hypocritical for Rita to take her initial stance, but I am glad she has since apologized. Rita has always been one of my favorite stars from the golden era of Hollywood so it really did hurt my feelings to hear her comments. Stephen Colbert even tried to help Rita out, but she doubled down. Many people wanted to excuse Rita’s comments by saying she is of an older generation, but I am under no such obligation. I believe you are never too old to learn something new and educate yourself. Hopefully, the apology was sincere and not damage control for Rita’s new biopic that Lin is in or of the new West Side Story movie. I really try my best to be optimistic about people’s motives.

I hope going forward that people in these positions of power, who can really take a stance in the spaces they occupy, learn not to take criticism personally. Critics were not attacking Lin’s art or even the script and cinematography of In The Heights. They were rightly upset. The lack of dark skinned Afro- Latinx in Lin’s show had been pointed out when In The Heights ran on Broadway. People were upset that Lin and Jon didn’t learn from the criticism and actively erased the people who make up the majority of the neighborhood depicted. I hope Rita too has learned from the controversy. She should ask herself why she was so dismissive of people’s concerns because that defensiveness is very telling. Telling people who have the right to be upset about their erasure to basically shut up and wait your turn just isn’t it. With that being said, I am happy about is that Rita didn’t take the stance of Sharon Osbourne when confronted with her bias, instead she reflected and apologized. That, to me, is growth.

The interview:

Some tweets:

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43 Responses to “Rita Moreno apologizes for defending colorism in ‘In The Heights’”

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  1. Lala11_7 says:

    Yea…Rita has enough cache in the bank for me so that I’ma ride with her apology…but I STILL say that the casting optics in that film were done ON PURPOSE…and sanctioned by Lin who KNEW those optics were a problem from the play…but OBVIOUSLY did not care….and I STILL believe that Rita meant what she said….

    • Steph says:

      I agree. It’s so blatant that it feels intentional.

      • SheWolf says:

        This. She meant what she said. She’s doing damage control now by backtracking.

        Doesn’t matter, I’m seeing her same sentiment echoed across twitter and beyond & it’s really gross. One tweet read ‘black people cant you just for one minute not make it ALL about you? We deserve representation too. Can you spare *one* moment where you aren’t the center of attention?”

        That to me is transparent as it gets.

    • Mtec says:

      Completely agree, and i think the writer of this article, Oya, is spot on. LMM didn’t see a problem because he saw himself being represented. This is why we need more diverse people telling their story in places of authority and power.

      • missskitttin says:

        I see your point. I saw myself represented so I didn’t see a problem. I’m white Dominican. I see the problem though. There wasn’t enough representation of afro-Latinx

  2. NCWoman says:

    “The lesson to be learned here is not to have a knee jerk reaction to constructive criticism.” I agree completely, and I agree that the casting of the movie was badly done. That said, the valid constructive criticism gets lost very quickly in the online social media mob. The hate we throw at people online makes us feel good temporarily, but I’m not sure it helps bring about actual change. And people can slam Chrissy Tiegen all they want, but I see a lot of people making very similar hateful comments when they get angry, There’s a much wider problem than just her.

  3. Case says:

    I totally understand and agree with the criticisms being thrown at In the Heights regarding colorism, but I have to say I HATE that these types of criticisms seem to come down harder on films that are huge accomplishments for underrepresented communities. It was the same with Crazy Rich Asians. Like I said, I 100% agree with the argument and that In the Heights should’ve been more diverse, but I really find it unfortunate that once again a film that was meant to celebrate an underrepresented culture on screen is getting bad press for not doing enough.


      And if the film underperforms, in part because of social media backlash and boycotting, it hurts the chances of more mainstream films focusing on Latino or Asian culture even getting made.

    • GA says:

      I totally agree, there should be a way to celebrate these successes whilst constructively have a discussion on how we can do better next time. I do not see films with predominantly white casts get nearly the same amount of flack that ITH and CRA got. I am from the same part of the world that CRA is set in; the vast majority of the country is ethnic Chinese and you were more likely to mingle amongst your own community – I’m not saying this is right as Singapore is an inherently unjust country and distribution of resources is not even across all ethnic groups, but the filmmakers do not have control of this. Maybe they could have referenced this somewhere, but ultimately they were doing a book adaptation of an ultra rich family whose roots came from China – and wanted to show Western audiences that Asian people weren’t all sweat shop workers or takeaway owners.

    • lucy2 says:

      It does seem like the bar is higher for films like this, which isn’t fair as there are still so many very white movies out there. That said, everyone can and should always strive to do better, and it’s crappy that in 2021 this film still didn’t accurately portray the people of the community.

      As for Rita, she’s 90 years old, and came up during a time where they put a bunch of white actors in brown face for West Side Story, so this must still seem like huge progress, if she’s looking back over the course of her career. But she was still wrong to say it and I’m glad she recognized that.

    • The Recluse says:

      Another good point.

  4. Enny says:

    Used to live in the heights. It’s an Afro-Caribbean, mostly Dominican, neighborhood. To portray it as anything else is hugely problematic, to make it about “diversity” is hugely problematic. It’s not a diverse neighborhood. Sure, there are white/ Jewish pockets at the northern end near Yeshiva U, but the neighborhood is one of NYC’s least diverse to begin with, and that’s what makes it worthy of those stories being told. BLACK stories. Some of the hardest working, family-oriented, immigrant stories in a city of hard working, family-oriented, immigrant stories already being told. From an almost entirely black neighborhood that suddenly is a weak amalgam of various, generic Latinx voices. No, the heights represents very specific voices. They should be heard.

    • Jane says:

      Thank you for your comment. I don’t know anything about the heights neighbourhood. Your comment gives more perspective.

  5. K-Peace says:

    I’m far angrier at Miranda than i am at Moreno. What the hell was he thinking?? I’ve never lived in NYC, i’m a NH resident, but i very much knew that Washington Heights is predominantly Dominican. I just don’t get how or why Hollywood bigwigs make these stupid decisions and think they’ll get away with it! And i would’ve thought that Miranda would’ve done better. I’m so disappointed. So i can just imagine how much more disappointed people of color who should’ve been represented in the film, must feel.

    • Cee says:

      I’m sure my opinion will not be a popular one but… it’s because many non latinos believe we’re all the same in terms of culture, race, ethnicity, language, etc. So what’s it to them to mix non Dominicans with actual afro-latinos? I am latin in the sense that I was born and raised in a LatAm country and I’d have very little in common with someone from República Dominicana, even less so with an American descended from Dominican immigrants and living in Washington Heights (even our Spanish is different).

      Even among our vast diversity, we are erased into being the same, all across the board. Our differences are overlooked, diminished and replaced with a generic stereotype that does not serve us nor represent us.

    • Amelie says:

      He also grew up north of Washington Heights in Inwood, the very northern neighborhood of Manhattan so he grew right on top of Washington Heights and he spent a lot of time there as a kid. That’s what makes it all the more disappointing IMO, is that he is from that area and he knows exactly the demographics of the neighborhood.

  6. Elizabeth Kerri Mahon says:

    I’m glad that Lin-Manuel Miranda apologized, but on the other hand, he should know better. He grew up in the Heights, so he knows what the demographics of that neighborhood are. In the Heights opened on Broadway in 2008, and he was criticized for it then, and now 13 years later, he’s still apologizing? I was willing to give Rita a pass because of her age and the crap that she went through in Hollywood during the 50s and 60s, including wearing dark makeup in West Side Story. Still, I remember that she once wrote how concerned she was that her daughter might be born with dark skin, so colorism runs deep.

    • Sunday says:

      Exactly this. Rita and Lin should both know better – they are part of the Latin community, they know full well how serious an issue colorism is within Latinidad. They’ve literally lived it. So for them to both feign ignorance is an added insult. Are AfroLatinos really thank invisible that you haven’t noticed your WHOLE lives? Really? All you see is you? I mean I guess it’s possible that the privilege envelopes them so completely, but the thought that they could be so ignorant to their own family members, neighbors, community… wow does that make me respect them even less.

    • Ann says:

      I didn’t even know her skin was darkened for West Side Story. I do love her so yes, it’s disappointing that she was so quick to dismiss the criticism about In The Heights. I’m glad she apologized, even if its not really enough.

      I am very surprised though that LMM let the movie go forward with that cast when he’d been getting criticism about the casting of the play for so many years. I know there is a storyline in it about a lighter-skinned young woman being with a dark-skinned young man and worrying about objection from the family? So on some level they address colorism in the plot, which is something anyway.

      It’s frustrating.

  7. StephB says:

    Mama Rita didn’t actually apologize. She said words but she did not say sorry and ask for forgiveness. Am I just being too sensitive? I’m a mom and I work hard with my 7 year old to do more than simply acknowledge that she’s done something wrong.

    LMM made sure that he was represented. I keep reminding myself of how important that is while at the same time being outraged and annoyed that he lacked the care to ensure that other members of his own community were also represented as well. The director is familiar with the erasure critique and clearly doesn’t care. He doesn’t want or perhaps doesn’t think Hollywood wants to see darker folks like me in the lead.

    • BlinkBanana says:

      Just because LMM is a person of colour, doesn’t make him immune to internal bias when it comes to race. He’s a lighter skinned man and projected himself into the casting. There are still huge barriers to darker skinned actors in this industry, because of this internalised subconscious/conscious preference for whiteness. He missed it. Everyone involved in signing off on the cast missed it. The public haven’t. He’ll hopefully learn a lesson and course correct on his next project. If he doesn’t, I suggest you don’t spend money on it, because that’ll be the only way they understand they got it wrong.

  8. ReginaGeorge says:

    Did the movie get stuff wrong? Absolutely. Are the criticisms valid? 100%. But I feel it’s also a little unfair for one movie – the first majority Latino based movie since what? Salsa the Motion Picture in the 80’s to have to shoulder all of this responsibility right now. I get it we are all soo hungry and deprived for representing that we chomp at the bit anytime a vehicle like this comes along.

    But hot damn, it was one film. It wasn’t even like Afro Latinos weren’t represented, it’s just that they weren’t dark enough, which is a fair point and I’m not going to deny that. Especially since I also can’t deny that colorism is rampant in Latino America. Latinidad is complicated. We have light skinned and mixed race Afro Latinos that have been told they are not black enough at times so they end up not identifying as Black and then folks get mad at them for identifying with their nationality instead of their race. We got mestizo Latinos who try to pass as white due to centuries of racism, ingrained self hate and colonization. It’s a complicated story to tell in 90 minutes on screen in one sitting.

    You know who else didn’t get representation? Indigenous Latinos. In WaHi, there are also some Mexicans/Central Americans of Indigenous ancestry, though the majority yes are Dominican, but it would have been nice to see an Indigenous face here and there. And they also only gave us one gay character with about 2 lines in 2 seconds of the entire film. But instead of just highlighting the omissions, it went straight to “boycott” this, “the movie is trash” that, and a slew of hate that the film didn’t deserve imo. For many of us Latinos is was high time to see us on the big screen in a more fleshed out and versatile representation than what Hollywood has historically given us. Yes it was disappointing that every shade of the diaspora was not included this time, but I was sad to see the criticism go from constructive to straight up bashing. We can and should do better. And hopefully Hollywood execs give us another opportunity to do so, being that this one ended up turning into such and unfortunate shit show.

    • Kath says:

      Exactly, you said what I was feeling. I loved seeing a history about Latinos that wasn’t about cartels or violence. I was so sick and tired of having my country depicted under the same shitty lenses every time!

    • Enny says:

      I see your point.
      I’m not calling for a boycott, but I’m disappointed.
      I’m just a girl who lived in the heart of the heights (171st St between B’way and Ft. Wash for those who know the area), who loved the neighborhood, who was thrilled to see the neighborhood get some artistic love, who loved her neighbors dearly, and who wants to see those neighbors represented accurately.

    • Sunday says:

      I get what you’re saying, but this was not a generic story that happened to be about Latinos, or a story about diversity in Latinidad. If it were, all your comments about representation (indigenous, Mexican, mestizo, LGBTQ+, etc.) would be exactly correct. The problem is, LMM set the story specifically in Washington Heights, and then failed to represent the community and its people accurately by whitewashing the cast. He did this after ignoring the same exact feedback from the play when it came out sixteen years ago. 1-6. That’s a long time to ignore voices in your own community, there’s no excuse for that, and he fully deserves to be called out.

      (LMM did a further disservice when they cut the racism storyline, because at least that would’ve focused on antiblackness in the Latino community. That would’ve been an incredibly valuable conversation and it’s equally disappointing, and telling, that he removed it.)

      • ReginaGeorge says:

        @Sunday, the cast wasn’t exactly whitewashed now. Melissa Barrera was the only blancita in the main cast. The rest were mixed race Latinos of varying degrees. Dascha Polanco, Leslie Grace and Daphne Rubin Vega all identify as Afro Latina. They just weren’t the right shade of Afro Latina. Also Dominicans come in all shades themselves. I know a bunch with green eyes and blonde hair that look like the actor that plays Usnavi. Within one immediate family unit you can find siblings and cousins that run the gamut of shades. Puerto Ricans are similar except they tend to be a lil lighter in general because they have more of an admixture with indigenous Taino plus the Euro. Dominicans are more African and Euro with lesser Taino ancestry. Both cultures are also rooted in African history. That was sorely missed in the movie unfortunately. PR DR Cuba, our music, our food, our dancing, our history is all deeply African influenced. I wish more of that had also been explored.

  9. Merricat says:

    Rita Moreno is old, and though very successful, she took a lot of abuse for being female and being not-white in the course of her career. The fact that she’s still working is amazing, and a testament to the strength of her talent.
    She reacted, she thought about it, and she apologized. I am not going to throw out her many years of good work. I believe that she will do better.

  10. Catherine says:

    The reason why the colorism on this movie hurt so much is that it came from a member of the community. It came from someone who has been a staunch ally for diversity and inclusion. It’s like a family member dismissing you versus a stranger. It cuts deeper. If members of the community who are in positions of power engage in the same biased hiring practices that are reflective of the biases in the larger industry then what hope do darker skinned people have. The thing that really bothered me was the hiring of John Chu a man who had displayed colorism in his previous work. Also, the fact that clearly during the production of this movie nobody noticed or cared is incredibly damning.

    • Sunday says:

      Exactly this, and the fact that the same exact comments were made to LMM 16 years ago when the play came out just shows that he doesn’t care at all. HE’S represented, so that’s enough for him. Rita is represented, so that’s enough for her. When they talk about ‘our community’ we know who they mean and who they leave out, every time. I guarantee if this had been a box office smash we wouldn’t have gotten any apologies from anyone.

    • Cait says:

      In her own memoir she wrote about how terrified she was that her baby with her White husband would come out Dark skinned because her grandfather was mixed with black. She hated being deemed “other” in America instead of white . This is very on brand for Rita.

      • Lola says:

        Yes it is on brand for someone who is over 90 years old and was trying to survive the America of the 1950’s, to sit here in 2021 and judge her for how she thought and felt then is just beyond.

      • Lola says:

        Yes it is on brand for someone who is over 90 years old and was trying to survive the America of the 1950’s, to sit here in 2021 and judge her for how she thought and felt then is just beyond.

  11. Marty says:

    I’m glad she said something, because her statements were quite bold for someone who has directly benefited from colorism and like the above tweet mentioned, had her skin darkened for a role that won her and Oscar.

  12. MerryGirl says:

    I’ve followed and loved Rita Moreno from since The Electric Company days and because of her work there I looked at her older performances in West Side Story. She has accomplished so much in her long career to be admired but being 90 ( as some are saying her thinking is from an older era) is no excuse to be insensitive of the genuine criticism and disappointment of Afro Latinos whose community and culture was depicted without them in leading roles. LMM knew better but chose to make a colorized film anyway. I’m glad she apologized because while I agree we should be celebrating a film that doesn’t depict Latinos as drug dealers, etc. the fact remains that the people of the community his film was based on were dismissed as dancers and extras and it is insulting to tell black people to wait a while. She and other light skinned Latinos were depicted so they are happy but why must black Latinos always have to wait a while. Their hurt is genuine.
    Like I said, I’m glad she apologized because I still like her and one is never to old to learn.

  13. Nev says:

    I’m not surprised. Always found him to be hella obnoxious and annoying.
    Maybe he can have a seat for a bit.

  14. Cait says:

    Rita like more than a few Latinos don’t consider the black Latinos as part of the community despite all their contributions to the culture. Jon Chu has done this several anyone that saw from his weddings knows exactly how Chu rolls. He directed Jem and the Holograms the one black female character was played by a white passing multiracial actress. Sasha was dark skinned unambiguous Black character. Crazy Rich Asians all the dark skinned South East Asians were background non speaking parts. He cannot feign ignorance.

  15. NOLA GIRL says:

    I’m happy the author is optimistic. I for one never believe in the sincerity of these apologies when there is money on the line and/or a new project is coming out.

  16. um says:

    I like Rita and I believe her apology. However, as a Latine, I’d be glad if this is the beginning of the end for LMM. I cannot stand him. He’s overrated AF as an artist and he’s NOT a good person. He’s not the representation we need as a community. Like, people need to actually read about him and the sh*t he’s pulled in Puerto Rico.

  17. um says:

    Not saying colorism doesn’t exist in the mainland, because oh boy it does, but there’s a huge disconnect with their roots in the diaspora if they don’t know you can be both latine and black.

    I’ve literally spoken to diaspora latine who didn’t even know black latines, so… there’s your problem. The diaspora lives in a white-passing bubble and they don’t want it to burst.

    Also, might I comment on something? With all due respect, I see this done in good faith, but people need to stop being Gretchen and trying to make fetch happen.

    “Latinx” is performative nonsense. It doesn’t change how gendered the Spanish language is and is unpronounceable for Spanish speakers. It just doesn’t work. Can’t even be conjugated.

    Latine is what we chose and we made ourselves without the help of college-educated ivory tower academicians in the US. Latinx is being forced on every Latine even though Latine and the letter “e” have been proposed by actual nonbinary latines like myself as an actual change in the Spanish language for a while now.

    A comic that explains it better: https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/10/15/20914347/latin-latina-latino-latinx-means

    This isn’t even a diaspora vs mainland situation. Only 3% of the diaspora uses the term Latinx: https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2020/08/11/about-one-in-four-u-s-hispanics-have-heard-of-latinx-but-just-3-use-it/