Like every well-intentioned person from a marginalized community that has jumped through the zeitgeist hoop because of THEIR persistence and originality, the Pulitzer Prize winning, Tony©, Grammy©, and Emmy© award winning, producer, actor, writer, activist, philanthropist, and pop cultural phenom, Lin-Manuel Miranda, finally gets the taste of fierce public backlash. His movie, IN THE HEIGHTS, did not seem to reflect any Afro-Latino energy in the main characters except in the dance numbers and background, and the Afro-Latinos are not happy about it. That is what some folks told the New York Times. The sad part is that it comes from his own people, and the whole color thing got picked up by white folks looking to divide us. Sometimes you just can’t win.
Who decided that Mr. Miranda is the representative gatekeeper to the entire Latinx identity and artistic expression? Clearly the Afro-Latino community does. It’s totally unfair, because for every white man that “makes it”, no one expects him to be a role model for all denominations of white men. It’s a win for ALL of them, as history has shown us.
The LGBTQ+ community does the same thing, because folks are already attaching themselves to recently out NFL player, Carl Nassib. He already thwarted the onset of "what are you going to do for the LGBTQ+ community?" questions by giving a huge contribution to the Trevor Project and saying that he is open to dialogue. He definitely will be a Grand Marshall at somebody's Pride event, especially when he explains this whole “I’m a Republican'' kerfuffle. If he plays decent football and gets his mom a new house, then his responsibilities are done, AND he will accomplish what Michael Sam couldn't do, but I digress.
|Carl Nassib and Michael Sam|
After reading Mr. Miranda’s apology, I felt so bad for him. With all of his efforts to be as inclusive as he is known to be while pursuing his OWN artistic choices to bring TO the masses, it turns out that some of his choices are not good enough for all of the masses.
|From the Original Broadway Cast of IN THE HEIGHTS|
Far be it from me to point out that the original Broadway cast did not have Afro-Latinos in the lead roles, and Benny from the car service was African-American, played by Christopher Jackson. No tea, no shade, but Mr. Jackson is a beautiful, light-skinned African- American, and no one complained. No one complained also when Corbin Bleu and Jordin Sparks did replacement work in those Latinx lead roles on Broadway. If there were no major public grumblings about representation then, it is hard to watch the public evisceration over skin color now.
|Pulitzer Prize, Tony©, Emmy©,Grammy© Award winning Lin-Manuel Miranda|
Does the man who single-handedly, with the stroke of a pen, saved the Drama Bookshop not get a pass? Does the man who took the images of our founding fathers and flipped the script on the meaning of non-traditional casting with HAMILTON, get no love from the Afro-Latino side of his family? Clearly not. If in response to the backlash, they traditionally re-cast HAMILTON with white folks that can rap and sing every lyric of that show (and you know they exist now), then there will be no one to blame but ourselves.
As for the film, the first time that I watched this beautiful piece of art, it did not even occur to me to be concerned with that level of representation. Honestly, I was so happy to just see the movie as a fan of musical theater. I remembered all of Mr. Miranda’s wrestling back and forth after the fall of Harvey Weinstein in order to get the rights back to his work. Once he secured the rights, and word was out on the streets that the long awaited movie adaptation of the groundbreaking musical was finally gonna happen, people lost their minds with anticipation. Mr. Miranda probably was killing himself night and day to see his baby go the full distance, and most people would say that all babies are beautiful. Yet sometimes in life, there are people who have no problem calling a newborn baby ugly right to the parents’ face.
I am sure that the Blatino people who live in Washington Heights were upset that they felt underrepresented in the film. In all fairness, this was not their story, just their neighborhood. Unless Mr. Miranda’s “black like me” side of the family was ever present in his life, then it might explain why they did not appear in the stage musical nor the film. The Latinx door has been opened wider by this newly energized call for recognition by the Afro-Latino community. In spite of the infighting and dogpiling that is currently dominating the press cycle, now there is room for discussion about those new Afro-Latino stories to break through.
When you are from marginalized America and the public has finally handed you the Golden Microphone to the BIG SHOW, making you the “first” from that community to do it, it is no longer about you anymore. It’s just like one of the characters in the film and her Stanford University realization. How’s that for life imitating art?
After spending the last few years kicking open doors for Latinx artists, Mr. Miranda almost escaped the artistic messianic curse that befalls every marginalized person who “makes it.” You are already carrying your hopes and dreams and that of your friends and family. In this new arena, you now have to add the hopes and dreams of millions of people that you will never meet. So to Mr. Miranda, you simply can’t win them all while carrying that many people’s dreams on your shoulders. Stop trying to do that. Just do you. Now that you are aware of this new deficiency within the confines of representation and if you choose to take on any Afro-Latinx storytelling moving forward, then just produce the work from a few amazing, up and coming, Afro-Latinx artists.
The theater community still loves you, and the rest of the world will eventually forgive you. Not to be shady, but I would also invest in a few interns to look up as many of the OTHER cultural Latinx fusions seeking some artistic representation. Word on the street is that the Chino-Latinx community is looking at you now, too. I’m just sayin’.