Director Jon M. Chu’s In the Heights, executive produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda has been rocked by colorism controversies over the past week.
“I’m seeing the discussion around Afro-Latino representation in our film this weekend and it is clear that many in our dark-skinned Afro-Latino community don’t feel sufficiently represented within it, particularly among the leading roles,” he wrote in part. “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. In trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short. I’m truly sorry.”
But, if Miranda was trying to create a true “mosaic” of Americans of Dominican Republic descent for In the Heights, it would make sense to actually cast actors of Dominican Republic descent instead of actors hailing from across Latin America. One actor that could have been cast was Jharell Jerome, a Dominican actor who Miranda actually saw play Usnavi in a high school production of In The Heights.
As Hip Latina reported in 2019 during the Primetime Emmys, Miranda tweeted about watching Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, which Jerome starred in, and realizing that he had met Jerome when he was a high school student at New York’s Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.
“I meet the brilliant @JharrelJerome, who looked SO familiar in @ava’s heartbreaking work of art, @WhenTheySeeUs,” he tweeted. “He tells me, ‘I don’t know if you remember me, but you came to my high school performance of In The Heights, I played Usnavi.’”
I meet the brilliant @JharrelJerome, who looked SO familiar in @ava’s heartbreaking work of art, @WhenTheySeeUs.— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) September 23, 2019
He tells me, “I don’t know if you remember me, but you came to my high school performance of In The Heights, I played Usnavi.”
Jerome’s performance of Usnavi has been captured in video, and even as a high schooler, Jerome crackled on stage as a character who wants to make more of his life.
Seeing how Miranda was in the audience when Jerome performed, it would have been great if Miranda had suggested Jerome as a star in the film. Of course, Miranda isn’t a casting agent, but it would have been great for the powers-that-be to utilize their power to increase Afro-Latinx representation when Afro-Latinx actors are ready and waiting for compelling roles in Hollywood.