Rita Moreno responded to critiques that musical adaptation In the Heights failed to represent Washington Heights’ Afro-Latino population in remarks made on Tuesday (June 15). In a guest appearance on The Late Show, the Puerto Rican actor defended Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music and lyrics of the original musical upon which the film is based and also produced and starred in the film.
Moreno said the criticism, which has focused on the dearth of darker-skinned Afro-Latinx characters in the movie, “really upsets me.” (Miranda co-produced Moreno’s documentary Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It.) She continued, “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 mean, I would love to say I did, but I couldn’t. Lin-Manuel has done that, really single-handedly and I was thrilled to pieces and I’m proud that he produced my documentary.”
When host Stephen Colbert asked her if she was saying that she understood the critiques but that the criticism was misplaced in focusing on Miranda, Moreno responded, “Well, I’m simply saying, can’t you just wait a while and leave it alone? There’s a lot of people who are Puerto Rican who are also from Guatemala who are dark and who are also fair. We are all colors in Puerto Rico. This is how it is. It would be so nice if they hadn’t come up with that and left it alone, just for now. They’re really attacking the wrong person.”
On Sunday, a video from online magazine The Root went viral in which host and producer Felice León confronted In the Heights director Jon M. Chu and actors including Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera and Gregory Diaz IV over colorism in the film’s casting choices. Chu acknowledged that the conversation was a “fair” one to have, adding that he hopes more people will be encouraged to “tell more stories and get out there and do it right.”
On Monday, Miranda addressed the criticisms himself in a message on Twitter. “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,” he said. “In trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short. I’m truly sorry.”
Miranda further spoke about the issue of representation with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show on Tuesday. “Your job as an artist is to write what’s missing,” he began, speaking generally of In the Heights and adding that, personally, he did not see a future for himself in musical theater. “It was like, how many of us can I get on the board. That’s the goal.” He explained that he wasn’t about telling stories of Latinos from the 1950s “with knives in their hands, which was incredibly overrepresented in musical theater, weirdly.”
Noah referenced the criticism of In the Heights, and notably Miranda’s response — that he was listening. The late-night host asked Miranda how he approached the criticism and what he thinks he could to do better. “I can’t legislate how people feel,” answered Miranda. “All I want is for this neighborhood to feel seen. And if there’s a segment of it that doesn’t feel seen and they’re saying that, you have to acknowledge that and let it in. All I can do is learn from it and promise to do better.”
He noted that while there is Afro-Latino representation in the film, the “beef” was specifically about dark-skinned Afro-Latinos in leading, principal roles. “I totally understand that,” said Miranda, “and I receive it, and I just have to do better on the next one.”At the same time, Miranda said that he is happy to hold space to feel proud of the project and what was accomplished. “We don’t get to make things like this much, so I have to be able to hold it all.”
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.
Watch Moreno on The Late Show below.