Despite earning $11.5 million on its opening day, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical drama “In the Heights” has faced criticisms for its apparent lack of dark-skinned Afro-Latino representation in the film.
Several internet users expressed their disappointment on Twitter as the 2008 musical-turned-blockbuster was found guilty of white-washing, most notably with its lead Afro-Latina actress Leslie Grace who plays Nina Rosario in the film.
Even before “In the Heights” received quite the controversy, director Jon M. Chu was called out for his stereotyping towards South Asians as domestic workers in his previous film, “Crazy Rich Asians.”
Hatian-American actress, director, and producer, Numa Perrier tweeted a video from The Root’s interview with ‘In the Heights’ director Jon M. Chu and cast members Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, and Gregory Diaz IV.
DAMN DAMN DAMN THIS IS PAINFUL pic.twitter.com/A4TOwYwHlb
— numa perrier (@missnuma) June 13, 2021
The tweet—which has now gone viral— had many dark-skinned Afro-Latinx folks calling out how the film’s representation is far from reality of the Black Latinx culture.
"i just want to point out that there were a lot of dark-skinned people at the auditions and they just didn't get picked" lmaooo https://t.co/xHEjJuxZTI
— fat betty draper (@kyndallrene) June 13, 2021
Exactly. When I heard Roberto Clemente speak in an interview before he die……He said: I can't eat at the same diners with my white teammates or sleep at the same hotels, because I'm Black & Puerto Rican.🇵🇷 @Lin_Manuel as a Puerto Rican🇵🇷 should know better pic.twitter.com/4e0knRSaWC
— PEDRO ALBIZU CAMPOS (@Annette69508797) June 13, 2021
I haven't seen the movie but how do you not have majority Black Latino cast in a movie about WASHINGTON HEIGHTS?
— Library Lioness (@library_lioness) June 13, 2021
These industries will never flat out admit that they hire lighter-skinned people over darker ones solely because of proximity to whiteness.
They’re selling to Caucasians because they’re the biggest demographic in the U.S so they always want to appeal to them in some way. https://t.co/LVeMkVRhYO
— HOLLYHOOD 👼🏾 (@hollyhoodIife) June 14, 2021
The problem with Colorism
Colorism is an issue among people of color, particularly in dark-skinned communities, since it is a kind of discrimination in which individuals with lighter complexion are treated better than those of the opposite.
At the same time, colorism is a byproduct of racism, remarkably in the United States. It preserves white beauty standards and favors white people in oppressive institutions such as in the media.
Similarly, the entertainment industry in the Philippines is distinctively full of light-skinned half Filipinos. Skin whitening brands also leech on the idea that beauty only comes in being white or light-skinned.
Aside from the Philippines, our neighbors from Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, and China have also emphasized the beauty of having white or pale skin.
Back in 2018, Asia Jackson, an actress of both African-American and Filipino descent, shared on twitter how she was bullied for having dark skin.
Kids told me I couldn’t join their games because I was maitim. I couldn’t have a single conversation with anyone without someone mentioning how dark I was. Complete STRANGERS called me “bruja” because of my hair texture. Imagine the effects that all of this has on a child. pic.twitter.com/Diez5JuZvM
— Asia Jackson (@aasian) May 31, 2018
She also mentioned on her Twitter thread that colorism is systemic; skin-tone bias is real and can bring dangers to one’s life.
dark skinned people are killed extrajudicially and imprisoned at higher rates whether the bias is explicit or not. Colorism is systemic. I created this hashtag not only to celebrate the diversity of Filipino beauty, but also to start conversations about colorism…
— Asia Jackson (@aasian) May 31, 2018
Culture appropriation is critical, particularly in the media. The struggles and identity of a specific culture or community where an individual belongs should not be whitewashed or stereotyped— especially in these rare occasions where POC have the opportunity to share their culture on screen.
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