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Rita Moreno Defends Lin-Manuel Miranda Over ‘In the Heights’ Colorism Criticism: ‘You Can Never Do Right’

Tribeca Festival, New York City. Saturday,
Samantha Okazaki / @samanthaokaz

Rita Moreno is defending Lin-Manuel Miranda and “In the Heights” following criticism over the film’s lack of Afro-Latino representation.

On tonight’s episode of “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” Moreno appeared to promote her documentary, “Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It,” and later brought up the “In the Heights” controversy.

“Can we talk for a second about that criticism about Lin-Manuel? That really upsets me,” Moreno said to Colbert.

Moreno is referring to criticism regarding the lack of dark-skinned Afro-Latinos in the film’s cast, particularly in leading roles. Online discussion on the topic over the weekend stemmed from a video article in The Root, published on Wednesday. In an interview with “In the Heights” director Jon M. Chu and stars Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera and Gregory Diaz IV, journalist Felice León questioned the film’s casting decisions. “What would you say to folks who say that ‘In the Heights’ privileges white-passing and light-skinned Latinx people?” León asked, to which Chu replied: “I would say that’s a fair conversation to have. Listen, we’re not going to get everything right in a movie. We tried our best on all fronts of it.”

“You can never do right, it seems,” Moreno continued. “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.”

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Colbert then asked: “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?” Moreno responded. “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.”

On Monday, Miranda issued an apology for the lack of representation, saying that he “fell short.” “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,” Miranda’s statement said 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.”

Watch the full clip below.