'In The Heights’ Director Responds To ‘Whitewashing’ Critique

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Following the long-awaited debut of In The Heights, director Jon M. Chu responded to criticism that the film had been “whitewashed.”

The film, based on the 2008 Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, opened in theaters over the weekend after a yearlong delay stemming from the pandemic. While some praised the film as a celebration of Latinx culture, others noticed Afro-Latinx actors were not present among the cast, which critics noted, differs from the true demographic makeup of the Washington Heights neighborhood where the film takes place.

The only Black character in the film, Benny, is played by Corey Hawkins, a non-Latino actor. 

“I think that was something we talked about and I needed to be educated about, of course,” Chu said in an interview with The Root’s Felice León last week. “In the end, when we were looking at the cast, we tried to get the people that were best for those roles,” Chu continued. “I think that’s a really good conversation to have, something that we should all be talking about,” he said.

In the same interview, actor Melissa Barrera revealed that “a lot of darker-skinned people” auditioned for the film, adding to criticisms about the film’s lack of representation. Barrera and Chu did note that darker-skinned dancers were present in the film, to which León, who is Black and of Cuban descent, pushed back. 

“Those are roles that, historically, we’ve been able to fill,” León pointed out. “We’ve been able to be the dancers, we’ve been able to be in the hair salons and, you know, this and that. But, like, a lead? That’s the breakthrough.” 

Chu responded, “We’re not going to get everything right in a movie,” adding that he hoped the film would prompt “more people to tell more stories and get out there and do it right then.” His response circulated social media and prompted further critique over his remarks.

Chu faced similar criticism of colorism in the 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians.

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