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Rita Moreno apologizes for 'dismissive' comments about 'In the Heights' casting

"I’m incredibly disappointed with myself. ... I was clearly dismissive of black lives that matter in our Latin community," she later said.
Rita Moreno speaks during the Tribeca Festival on June 13, 2021, in New York.
Rita Moreno speaks during the Tribeca Festival on Sunday in New York.John Lamparski / Getty Images for Tribeca Festival
/ Source: Reuters

Rita Moreno is receiving backlash on social media after defending Lin-Manuel Miranda and "In the Heights" following criticism regarding the lack of dark-skinned Afro Latinos in the film's cast, particularly in leading roles.

Moreno appeared on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" Tuesday night to promote her documentary, "Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It," and later brought up the "In the Heights" controversy.

"Can we talk for a second about that criticism about Lin-Manuel? That really upsets me," Moreno told Colbert.

The criticism had grown over the opening weekend of the movie adaption of Miranda's Broadway musical “In the Heights” after the online publication The Root published a series of video interviews with the film's director, Jon M. Chu, and stars Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera and Gregory Diaz IV on Wednesday. In the interviews, journalist Felice León questioned the film's casting decisions.

León asked Chu about "folks who say that 'In the Heights' privileges white-passing and light-skinned Latinx people." Chu responded by saying "that's a fair conversation to have. Listen, we're not going to get everything right in a movie. We tried our best on all fronts of it."

Chu and others have also pointed to the big musical numbers in which the movie features Black and Afro Latino dancers — but some critics have pushed back, arguing those actors have long been relegated to background roles.

"You can never do right, it seems," Moreno said in response to the criticism before further defending Miranda.

"This is the man who literally has brought Latino-ness and Puerto Rican-ness to America. I couldn't do it. I would love to say I did, but I couldn't. Lin-Manuel has done that really singlehandedly, and I'm thrilled," Moreno said about Miranda, who is also one of the co-producers of Moreno's documentary. "And I'm proud that he produced my documentary," she added.

Colbert then asked, "So are you saying that while you may understand where people's concerns come from, that perhaps it's misplaced in criticizing him in this?"

"Well I'm simply saying, can't you just wait a while and leave it alone?" Moreno responded. "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. I mean, they're really attacking the wrong person."

She apologized Wednesday evening for her comments.

"I’m incredibly disappointed with myself. While making a statement in defense of Lin-Manuel Miranda on the Colbert Show last night, I was clearly dismissive of black lives that matter in our Latin community. It is so easy to forget how celebration for some is lament for others," she tweeted.

"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. See, you CAN teach this old dog new tricks," she wrote.

Moreno's original remarks to Colbert prompted swift reaction on social media.

One Twitter user pointed out that while, "I love Rita Moreno. Yes, Lin-Manuel has done whole lot. It doesn’t mean he couldn’t do better with representation for Afro Latinos. Why does the fair skinned always say wait your turn to darker skinned people?"

Panamanian American writer and editor Ecleen Luzmila Caraballo blasted Moreno for her exaggerated claim that Miranda "singlehandedly” brought “Latino-ness” to the U.S. and for asking "offended and/or hurting individuals (whether or not you understand or not) to hit pause 'for now.'"

That "is why we’re at where we’re at. It’s always 'we’ll deal with it later,' and later never comes," Caraballo tweeted.

Latino writer Arturo Dominguez also called out Moreno's defensive attitude toward the "In the Heights" criticism.

"Sorry, I love Rita Moreno but her attitude is exactly what needs to be addressed. It shouldn't wait. That's why we are where we are," Dominguez tweeted.

On Monday, Miranda issued an apology, saying "we fell short" in meaningfully representing Afro Latinos in the film.

"I can hear the hurt and frustration over colorism, of feeling still unseen in the feedback. I hear that without sufficient dark-skinned Afro-Latino representation, the work feels extractive of the community we wanted so much to represent with pride and joy," Miranda said in a lengthy statement. "In trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short. I'm truly sorry. I'm learning from the feedback, I thank you for raising it, and I'm listening."

Quiara Alegría Hudes, who wrote the book for the musical version of “In the Heights” and the screenplay for the film adaptation, also joined Miranda in apologizing.

"I joined Lin on this journey and share his apology, responsibility, and promise," Hudes tweeted Monday.

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