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Rita Moreno’s Comments About Afro-Latinx In the Heights Criticism Come as a Disappointment

Someone needs to ring her up and have a chat.

Rita Moreno speaks during the Rita Moreno Puerto Rican Day Parade Celebration during the 2021 Tribeca Festival.

UPDATE: Moreno has since said of her remarks, “I’m incredibly disappointed with myself. While making a statement in defense of Lin-Manuel Miranda on the Colbert Show last night, I was clearly dismissive of black lives that matter in our Latin community. It is so easy to forget how celebration for some is lament for others.”

During a guest appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Rita Moreno criticized the backlash that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights is receiving due, in part, to the colorism in the film and the lack of proper Afro-Latinx representation. And honestly, it’s not her place as a White Latina. I get what she was doing. She was defending a friend, but the way you phrase things matters.

In the clip above, Moreno said, “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.”

And we’re proud. No one ever said that we weren’t proud of the work that Lin-Manuel Miranda has done for the Latinx community. We will be forever grateful and understand that plenty of people saw themselves in In the Heights. I saw myself in the movie. But acknowledging that some in the Latinx community didn’t see themselves, and there’s room to do better, isn’t a bad thing.

Moreno followed that by saying, “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.”

Excuse me? “Can’t you just wait a while and leave it alone?” Look, we can appreciate the good things about In the Heights without saying that Afro-Latinx people should wait their turn. That’s not how it works. Change doesn’t happen by leaving things the way they are and just quietly hoping for things to get better. Change happens when people ask for more and stand their ground.

That’s what Afro-Latinx people are doing, and asking them to just wait and leave it alone sounds reductive and kind of insulting for a part of the Latinx community that already is treated as less-than for the color of their skin. Colorism and racism inside the Latinx community is real, and the only way we’re going to crush it is by facing our shortcomings and working through them.

I’d like to believe that was what Miranda’s apology was all about when it comes to In the Heights. I’d like to believe that he’ll change and listen to those in the community that he has disappointed. But it’s people like Rita Moreno and her comments that leave me feeling like change is going to be hard-fought from inside the Latinx community on its own. And I’m not the only one.

(image: John Lamparski/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival)

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Lyra (She/Her) is a queer Latinx writer who stans badass women in movies, TV shows, and books. She loves crafting, tostones, and speculating all over queer media. And when not writing she's scrolling through TikTok or rebuilding her book collection.