Lin-Manuel Miranda Falls From The Heights

A timeline of the political collapse of what was supposed to be the summer’s big musical hit

Lin-Manuel Miranda released In the Heights earlier this month to lots of critical acclaim, with many saying the summer film heralds a mass return to the box office after a year-and-a-half of coronavirus-battered box office receipts.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

But not all are in love with the film, and recent accusations of colorism in the film’s casting decisions are the driving force behind many of the problems some audience members are expressing. Here’s a timeline of how Miranda’s play went from Wesleyan wunderkind to current controversy.

1999

Lin-Manuel Miranda writes the earliest drafts of In the Heights as a sophomore at Wesleyan. The play goes on to be part of the university’s student theater company, with early performances described as “a hip-hop version of Rent.”

Feb. 2008

In the Heights makes its Broadway debut after three years of off-Broadway performances. It would go on to recoup its initial $10 million investment in 10 months, and earn four Tony awards out of 13 nominations.

Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent, stars in the lead role as Usnavi, a bodega owner who dreams of going back to his home of the Dominican Republic.

Jan. 2015

Miranda’s Hamilton premieres on Broadway. In the Heights was a success, but this musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton makes him a household name. The play earns nearly unanimous positive reviews and is a global success.

Aug. 2018

Jon M. Chu’s film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians, about a woman who discovers her boyfriend is a part of one of the richest families in Singapore, goes into wide release. It’s seen as a landmark for Asian representation in American filmand also debuts to rapturous praise and a lot of money. However, other countries would go on to criticize the film for its Asian casting decisions, such as casting biracial and non-Chinese actors as ethnically Chinese and having characters speak only British English and American English, as well as not reflecting any of Singapore’s non-Chinese citizens.

July 3, 2020

Disney drops Hamilton on its streaming service Disney+ earlier than expected during the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Hamilton is back in the discourse again, but people are more critical of the play and of Miranda this time around. The play’s depiction of slave-owning founding fathers as Black Americans plays different during a summer of protests of the police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black Americans.

Three days after its Disney+ debut, Miranda tweets an apology about the play’s representation.

“All the criticisms are valid. The sheer tonnage of complexities and failing of these people I couldn’t get. Or wrestled with but cut. I took 6 years and fit as much as I could in a 2.5 hour musical. Did my best. It’s all fair game.”

June 11, 2021

Chu’s film adaptation of In the Heights debuts in theaters and on HBO Max. This time, Hamilton alum Anthony Ramos stars as Usnavi. Ramos is also of Puerto Rican descent. Almost immediately, people criticize the film for being about people from the Dominican Republic, but having virtually no Afro-Latinx representation. One of the characters, Benny, is Black, played by Corey Hawkins, but virtually every lead role is light-skinned.

June 14, 2021

Miranda tweets an apology about the In the Heights film’s lack of “dark-skinned Afro-Latino” representation.

“I started writing In The Heights because I didn’t feel seen. And over the past 20 years all I wanted was for us–ALL of us–to feel seen. I’m seeing the discussion around Afro-Latino representation in our film this weekend, and it is clear that many in our dark-skinned Afro-Latino community don’t feel sufficiently represented within it, particularly among the leading roles. I can hear the hurt and frustration over colorism, of feeling unseen in the feedback,” he writes.

“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. Thank you for your honest feedback. I promise to do better in my future projects, and I’m dedicated to the learning and evolving we all have to do to make sure we are honoring our diverse and vibrant community. Siempre, LMM.”

Chu says that while casting the film, he “tried to get the people who were best for those roles specifically”:

“It’s definitely something we talked about, and I needed to be educated about [it], of course. In the end, when we were looking at the cast, we tried to get the people who were best for those roles specifically. … I think it’s a really good conversation to have, it’s something we all should be talking about,” according to The Root.

June 16, 2021

Rita Moreno defends Miranda over the accusations of colorism in In the Heights during an interview with Stephen Colbert.

“I’m simply saying, can’t you just wait a while and leave it alone?” she said in response to people criticizing the film.

June 17, 2021

Moreno walks back her previous statement, saying she is “incredibly disappointed in myself”:

“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. In addition to applauding Lin for his wonderful movie version of In the Heights, let me add my appreciation for his sensitivity and resolve to be more inclusive of the Afro-Latino community going forward. See, you CAN teach this old dog new tricks.”

June 18, 2021

Bill Maher defends Miranda against “bullies” on his Real Time with Bill Maher show.on HBO.

“Stop the apologizing,” he says in a monologue. “You’re the guy who made the founding fathers Black and Hispanic! I don’t think you have to apologize to Twitter.

“Do I think that [Miranda] really thinks he should apologize? I don’t,” he continues. “I think that he just wants to avoid the news cycle, and I don’t blame him. This is why people hate Democrats; It’s cringey.

“I mean he’s a Latino making a Latino movie with a Latino cast. Not good enough. Nothing is ever good enough for these people. They’re like children. We don’t raise our children right and it’s reflected in the media. No one ever tells their children, ‘Shut the fuck up. Sit down. Listen to your elders. Stop bitching.’

“People are going to have to stand up to these bullies, because that’s what it is, bullying. It’s ‘I can make you crawl like a dog and I enjoy it.’”

June 21 

A Washington Post column  makes the case for Miranda to keep apologizing and calls the film “part of a long tradition in the Americas of Black erasure.”

“The issue is not the expectation that films must represent all Latin American experiences. The issue is dishonesty.

Washington Heights is home to a population of mostly dark-skinned Black Dominicans. “In the Heights” does make an effort to include Dominican cultural staples while still honoring the diversity that has always shaped the community, but it does so in the palest ways possible, prioritizing the palette of those who make up the minority of the neighborhood’s demographics: White and light-skinned Latinxs who use their access to Spanish, as a first or second language, as a distancing mechanism from their Whiteness.”

Despite overwhelmingly positive reviews, box office response to In the Heights has been tepid, according to industry analysts. The film made $11.5 million in its opening weekend. HBO Max hasn’t released official numbers, but some sources place it at an estimated 693,000 starts in U.S. households over the weekend. For context, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It got twice that.
Miranda has a Netflix musical coming out this fall and has an ongoing deal with Disney. The same day as the post column, he appeared on The Tonight Show, singing a medley with Jimmy Fallon about the return of Broadway. It appears that Lin-Manuel Miranda is somehow going to weather this terrifying controversy.
Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ‘In the Heights’ fails to feature a piragua guy of color.

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Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at jakeharrisbog.com or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

One thought on “Lin-Manuel Miranda Falls From The Heights

  • June 29, 2021 at 10:51 am
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    Know what killed in the Heights? You white guys who stuck your nose into it, calling valid criticism “woke”. The longer you chastised dark skinned people as being whiners, the more we kept our money in our pockets, instead of just shutting up and listening, you couldn’t help yourselves. Congrats!

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