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‘The Answers Were Trash’: Critics React After ‘In The Heights’ Director and Actor Respond to Question About the Erasure of Black Latinx Actors In the Film

The adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical “In the Heights” premiered last weekend in the theaters and became the talk of the weekend following an interview that went viral after pointing out the lack of darker-skinned characters in the film

Webby-award-winning host Felice León went viral on Twitter after her June 9 interview with the film’s director, Jon M. Chu, along with cast members Leslie Grace, Gregory Diaz IV, and Melissa Barrera. She dubbed the project “a lovely musical” before proceeding to the real question, which was: “What are your thoughts on the lack of Black Latinx people represented in your film.”

"In the Heights" trailer screenshot./ YouTube
“In the Heights” trailer screenshot. (Photo: YouTube)

Chu, who is also the director of “Crazy Rich Asians,” was the first to take on the question. He responded, “I think that that was something we talked about, and I needed to be educated about. In the end, when we were looking at the cast, we tried to get the people who were best for those roles.” The 41-year-old ended his first response with, “I think that’s a really good conversation to have something that we should all be talking about.”

Some viewers of the interview and film were not taking Chu’s answer as an acceptable response, mainly because this is not the first time he has faced this exact criticism. In the romance-comedy film “Crazy Rich Asians,” which was released in 2018, some claimed he missed the mark on representation and left the darker Asians to play as extras.

One Twitter user responded, “Jon Chu did the same thing with Crazy Rich Asians where darker skinned Southeast Asians were relegated to extras’ roles for a story in a country where there’s quite a number of dark skinned Southeast Asians. So you know, there’s a pattern here that I’m seeing.”

Someone else tweeted, “They’re just glad to be there and to be light because the answers were TRASH. That “a lot of Blacks showed up but the best people for the job got hired” was the most racist and colorist thing I heard in a while. Enjoy your modest opening weeks. This is why. You don’t represent us.”

León even took a moment to school Chu when he asked if she did not see the dark-skinned background dancers in the film. “Those are roles that historically we’ve been able to film, she said. “We’ve been able to be the dancers, and we’ve been able to be in the hair salons. But like — a lead, you know that’s the breakthrough. We want to see Black people in the Heights, we want to see Afro-Panamanians, Black Cubans, Black Dominicans. You know that’s what we want to see and that’s what we were yearning for and hoping for.”

When asked what he has to say about viewers criticizing the film for giving privilege to white-passing Latinx people, his response contained statements like “We’re not going to get everything right in a movie,” and “We tried our best on all fronts of it.” 

Barrera was another whose response did not sit well with viewers. She said, “I think it’s important to note though that, in the audition process which was a long audition process, there were a lot of Afro-Latinos there, a lot of darker skinned people.” Similar to Chu’s answer, Barrera said she believes the main focus was to fill in roles with a person that “embodied each character in the fullest extent and I think we are all very much like our character.” 

Again, similar to Chu, Barrera tried to explain that the directors tried to make up for the erasure of Black Latinx leads by filling out a few of the background dancers with Black characters. One Twitter brought up actress Lupita Nyong’o, who is a darker-skinned actress of Kenyan descent who was born in Mexico and lived there until she was a year old before returning for several months as teenager to learn Spanish. 

“The kill is that Melissa Barrera is Mexican and so is Lupita nyong’o,” the fan said at the start of their tweet. “Some might consider Lupita a better actress, but if they was both in Mexico right now, who would have more opportunity?? Which ppl pointed out YEARS ago. So why she wanna act dense is beyond….”

Someone else added, “how is melissa barrera rly gonna sit there and basically say “yeah a lotta black people auditioned but we were better for the role” like the decision was totally unbiased. for a movie about a historically afrolatinx neighborhood.”

Diversity and inclusion is not the only thing that flopped in the film. It’s been reported that after expecting about $20 million in revenue from the opening weekend, they only received $11.4 million. Several ideas have been thrown out about why “In the Heights” failed to generate the revenue expected in theaters.

Some believe it is because people are being cautious about going to the movies due to the pandemic. The movie also premiered on HBO Max, so there is also the thought that people opted to stay home and watch the movie on the streaming platform. On the flip side, it did receive a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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