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Girl in a jacket

‘In the Heights’ backlash is a reminder that representation is important

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.”

In the Heights
Via Youtube

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.

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.



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.

She also mentioned on her Twitter thread that colorism is systemic; skin-tone bias is real and can bring dangers to one’s life.

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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