In the Heights’ and Colorism: A Silver Screenplay You Can’t Miss

“In the Heights” is a long-anticipated silver screen adaptation of the Broadway stage play musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It was regarded as the stepping stone towards an increasing Latino representation In Hollywood.

Plot of In the Heights' and Colorism

The writers invite you to the event of the summer, where the streets rhyme in music and dreams metamorphosize overnight. “In the Heights.” is set in Washington Heights. The ambience of the 181st Street subway stop, where a kaleidoscope of dreams rallies this vibrant and tight-knit community. At the epicentre of it, a bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), saves every dime from his daily hardships as he dreams of a better life. 

In the Heights' and Colorism

Criticism of ‘In the Heights' and Colorism

The Movie is under scrutiny and criticism for Colorism, and factual and ethnic incorrectness of the casting of the movie. The crux of the matter lies in the fact that the New York neighbourhood at the centre of the story, Washington Heights, is predominantly Afro-Dominican. It is, however pointed out that a majority of actors in the film are fair-skinned or white-passing Latinx. There is a dearth of dark-skinned people in the movie. In an interview with Felice León, a video producer for The Root, Jon M. Chu, the director, tries to brush aside the claims of incorrect casting by saying that they “tried to get the people who were best for those roles.” 

Leslie Grace, a Dominican-American actress who plays Nina, a Puerto Rican college student struggling with belonging and community at Stanford University, is the only Afro-Latino lead actress. 

According to cast members, the audition process did include “a lot of Afro Latinos”, — which brings us to the burning questions about why not choose the “the right people for the roles”. Black actors were mainly assigned background dancers and extras.

Colorism is deeply rooted in the United States. There is a popular screening test, “much alive and still kicking” (according to Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis). It is called the “paper bag test” (to ensure skin color was whiter than a paper bag). Viola also said that dark-skinned actresses have always been stereotyped as crack addicts and prostitutes.

Black actors and actresses have always been viewed as damsels in distress, a cast addition for white stories depicting a “white saviour” narrative like in To Kill a Mockingbird or The Help: where racism was viewed from a white man’s lens, as a life-altering experience; or movies like The African Queen or Out of Africa, where the entire continent plays second fiddle to a white person’s adventures.

With the casting scene diversifying, there still remains a wide gap. One study conducted in 2019 and released in 2021 found that of Black women cast in leading roles within the past decade, only 19 per cent had dark skin.

That framework ultimately reinforces a lens of white privilege and maintains an inequitable view of the world that simultaneously fails to challenge audiences to see things any differently. The damage is far more serious than it seems as for the audience oblivious of the erasure — white audiences — their willful ignorance is not only validated but cemented. The sect of society that sees the Black extras as adequate representation and/or progress that remains progress. 

With all of this in mind, there is still room for praise. In the Heights has won praise for its loving depiction of a Latinx diaspora experience, especially in songs like “Paciencia y Fe,” which depicts the plight of immigrants arriving in New York, struggling with racism, economic hardship and the troubles fitting in. While the story has a life-impacting role for many of its viewers, however, widespread discussion of the film’s drawbacks might ultimately overshadow its better efforts.

Cast of In the Heights' and Colorism

The “In the Heights” cast includes Daphne Rubin-Vega, left, Stephanie Beatriz, Melissa Barrera (rear), Olga Merediz, Gregory Diaz IV, Dascha Polanco and Jimmy Smits.

Reviews and Ratings

The movie has received some great reviews all over the internet. The PG-13 rated musical lasting 2hr and 33 mins received a 94% score amongst 2500 Audience reviews, 7.4/10 in 33,000 reviews on IMDb and a Metascore of 84 .

Wrapping up

Hollywood has long glamourized fair-skinned Latinos over Afro-Latinos, often denying the latter roles that better suit their culture. It’s an inaccurate, narrow-minded representation of Latinos, who are diverse in culture and complexion. I hope that projects like these will improve the racial representation in cinema. If you liked this post, make comment below on your expectations from the movie and visit our website for more movie reviews.