Oscar-winner Rita Moreno is now facing criticism after she went on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and defended In the Heights and producer Lin-Manuel Miranda against the backlash that the film has received in regards to colorism and the lack of darker-skinned, Afro-Latinx actors.
Moreno was on the show to promote her doc, Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, but brought up the In the Heights controversy unprovoked.
“Can we talk for a second about that criticism about Lin-Manuel? That really upsets me,” she said, as reported by Variety. “You can never do right, it seems. 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 to pieces and I’m proud that he produced my documentary.”
Colbert questioned her, saying, “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?” she continued. “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.”
The Root‘s Felice León started a conversation when her interview with the cast and director went viral.
In the interview, both director John M. Chu and actress Melissa Barerra’s answers received mostly negative reactions, with Chu stating while he recognized the problem, the actors that were chosen were the best for the role. Barerra said, “In the audition process, which was a long audition process, there were a lot of Afro-Latinos there. A lot of darker-skinned people. And I think they were looking for just the right people for the roles. For the person that embodied each character in the fullest extent.”
Leslie Grace, an Afro-Latina actress in the film, spoke on her desire to see more dark-skinned Afro-Latinx people represented in film. “I didn’t realize until making this movie that I didn’t really get to see myself or people that looked like my siblings, that are darker than me, onscreen. I hope that this is cracking that glass ceiling. Because I do hope to see my brothers and sisters that are darker than me lead these movies.”
Miranda issued an apology on social media, which reads in part, “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.”
As Tambay Obenson, founder of Shadow and Act and current IndieWire writer wrote on Twitter, “Rita Moreno’s skin was darkened for her role as Anita in the 1961 adaptation of “West Side Story,” which launched her career with an Oscar win. Although she didn’t have a say in the matter. But clearly, for Black Latinx in Hollywood, ‘wait a while’ is so 1960s.”
#FunFact: Rita Moreno's skin was darkened for her role as Anita in the 1961 adaptation of "West Side Story," which launched her career with an Oscar win. Although she didn't have a say in the matter. But clearly, for Black Latinx in Hollywood, "wait a while" is so 1960s. https://t.co/tSn4YCJCQR— TAMBAY OBENSON (@TambayObenson) June 16, 2021