The praise for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights quickly turned to backlash against the lack of Afro-Latinx representation.
Some blame Lin-Manuel, director John Chu, and Hollywood in general for the lack of representation.
The conversation has multiple layers. There are some that opt for personal attacks, those who lampoon Hollywood, and there are some that have taken the conversation to a social level. As some have pointed out, this problem is larger than Hollywood or the movie industry. Telenovelas cast darker skinned individuals as the help. And in Latin America, inequality is rooted in color and ethnicity.
What We Can Learn
I started writing this piece because I wanted to understand why the exchange affected me. Here’s what I learned.
It’s easy to get sucked into the binary world of the internet. Instead of getting angry that some people can’t seem to see the progress Hollywood or society has made over the years, understand that change comes from pointing out inadequacies. I might not like the hurtful and sarcastic tones, but, I have to assess their point.
Unfortunately, our medium of conversation, memes and social media, lends itself to punctuated points without the need for carefully constructed arguments. Social media doesn’t cater to a conversation on how to tackle a problem. Nor is it meant to be a source of in depth historical and social analysis.
Regardless of the medium, however, the point is, we can’t ignore each other. The difference in how Rita Moreno and Lin-Manuel Miranda responded to the public shows the importance of acknowledging and listening.
When and How to Listen
Rita Moreno expressed her feelings about the backlash during an interview with Stephen Colbert:
“Can we talk for a second about that criticism about Lin-Manuel? That really upsets me…You can never do it right, it seems. This is the man who literally has brought Latino-ness and Puerto Rican-ness to America.”
She has since apologized for her statement and expressed regret for being “dismissive of black lives that matter” in the Latin American community. Adding, “It is easy to forget how celebration for some is lament for others.”
This is an excerpt from Lin-Manuel’s statement:
I’m truly sorry. I’m learning from the feedback, I thank you for raising it, and I’m listening. I’m trying to hold space for both the incredible pride in the movie we made and be accountable for our shortcomings.Lin-Manual Miranda
This is truly a masterclass on moving us forward, something Lin-Manuel has been doing for a long time. I also see this as a lesson on self-care. Self-care in this case means first, learning how to reflect and recover when some people point out a flaw in our work. Second, understanding the value of our work and to not let the noise overpower how we feel. Third, letting the constructive elements of the setbacks inspire us to do better next time.