‘In the Heights’ and Colorism: What Is Lost When Afro-Latinos Are Erased

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2021-06-22 20:36Z by Steven

‘In the Heights’ and Colorism: What Is Lost When Afro-Latinos Are Erased

The New York Times

By Maira Garcia, Sandra E. Garcia, Isabelia Herrera, Concepción de León, Maya Phillips and A.O. Scott

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. Warner Bros.

The film, set in a New York neighborhood known as the Little Dominican Republic, didn’t cast dark-skinned Latinos in lead roles. Our writers discuss how that absence reverberates.

In the Heights,” the long-delayed Hollywood adaptation of the Broadway musical, has been heralded as a step for more Latino representation in Hollywood, but a conversation has emerged about colorism and the casting of the film.

The New York neighborhood at the center of the story, Washington Heights, is predominantly Afro-Dominican. In an interview, Felice León, a video producer for The Root, asked Jon M. Chu, the director, and some of the stars about the lack of dark-skinned leads in the film: “As a Black woman of Cuban descent specifically from New York City,” she told him, “it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge the fact that most of your principal actors were light-skinned or white-passing Latinx people.” Chu said it was a conversation and something he needed to be educated about. In the end, he said, they “tried to get the people who were best for those roles.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is a part of the film’s creative team, which includes the writer Quiara Alegría Hudes, addressed the criticism last week in a statement on Twitter. He apologized for falling short in “trying to paint a mosaic of this community.” Several prominent Latinos came to Miranda’s defense, including the pioneering Latina actress Rita Moreno, who later backtracked her comments. It’s not the first time Chu has had to contend with questions of identity. His box office hit “Crazy Rich Asians” also had to address similar issues when it came to the casting of Asians and Asian-Americans in the film. (The lead actor in that film, Henry Golding, is biracial.)

I asked five critics and reporters at The Times to weigh in on the criticism and what it means for representation in the arts. These are edited excerpts from the conversation. MAIRA GARCIA

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How ‘In the Heights’ Casting Focused a Wider Problem of Afro-Latino Representation

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2021-06-21 02:06Z by Steven

How ‘In the Heights’ Casting Focused a Wider Problem of Afro-Latino Representation

Rolling Stone

Andrea Marks, Research Editor

MELISSA BARRERA (center) as Vanessa in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “IN THE HEIGHTS
Macall Polay/Warner Bros

A prevalence of light-skinned actors demonstrates Hollywood’s — and Latin America’s — history of colorism

When the musical In the Heights debuted in 2008, it was considered a triumph of Latin American story-telling. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent, it brought the barrio to Broadway and centered Latino immigrants building a community in New York “north of 96th street” so their children could chase the American Dream. The plot is centered around Usnavi (originally played by Miranda himself), the son of Dominican immigrants, who runs the family bodega but dreams of something bigger.

The movie version of the Tony Award–winning show hit theaters and HBO Max last week to largely positive reviews and praise for its three-dimensional portrayals of Latin-American characters, not to mention its ambitious full-cast musical numbers. A majority-Latino cast carries the film, starring actors like Anthony Ramos, a star of Miranda’s other Broadway blockbuster, Hamilton, who is of Puerto Rican descent, playing Usnavi; Mexican TV actress Melissa Barrera; and Bronx-born bachata singer Leslie Grace, who is of Dominican descent. At the same time, many viewers have expressed disappointment at a lack of Afro-Latino representation in the cast, especially among lead characters…

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I Am a Blacktina: Reflections on Being an Afro-Cuban in the U.S.

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Identity Development/Psychology, Latino Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2014-12-31 00:54Z by Steven

I Am a Blacktina: Reflections on Being an Afro-Cuban in the U.S.

For Harriet

Felice León

I am a Blacktina. Get it: Black [La]tina?

A friend gave me this nickname years ago, and it has stuck. My father is Afro-Cuban, and my mother Afro-American. I identify with both cultures and have tried to balance both, but I’ve found that I associate more so with my blackness, particularly while living in the United States.

Last week, President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba. There is said to be a U.S. Embassy opening in Havana. This is a big deal. It has been decades since the U.S. has had relations with Cuba, and Obama’s announcement marks a pivotal point in American history. Politically, there is both optimism and skepticism. Amongst my peers, the announcement seemed to have gone over well. Facebook was flooded with posts about Cuba: plans to travel to Cuba, requests for Cuban cigars, and other foolish insights that people tend to share on social media. I was also delighted to hear of the news. I’ve visited Cuba once, but it wasn’t enough. Still, during my trip I had a deep connection with my Black and Brown relatives. I was accepted as being Cuban, and for those few weeks there was no question about my identity…

I have found that being a Black woman of Cuban descent comes as a surprise to many in this country. In a class discussion last year I spoke of why I choose to refer to myself as Black (I didn’t mention the Blacktina nickname in this conversation): “The ship made many stops before it arrived on these shores. I feel like the term ‘Black’ more so encompasses the African Diaspora.” African slaves made significant contributions in Latin America. There is a complex racial history. African blood runs deep in the veins of many Latinos, which is why I choose to identify as Black. But for others, there is a level of denial when it comes to their African roots…

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