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What’s An Artist’s Responsibility?

Thoughts on ‘In the Heights’ and dark skin POC

Cast of Lin Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights”.

Movies and stories like Moonlight, Black Panther, and Crazy Rich Asians should be the norm by now, but they’re just not. Maye that’s because of the lack of POC screenwriters and producers,  fear, or plain racism. Whatever it is, marginalized stories are rarely represented. This is why when a movie like In the Heights is made, people look at it like it’s the Messiah.

For the Lantix community, In the Heights was marketed as their Messiah. The story is a much-needed rendering and celebration of the lively, diverse and cultured Lantix community of Washington Heights in New York City–nicknamed “The Little Dominican Republic.” I’m sure many had high hopes for this one, as it was an adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda’s highly praised stage musical. And whether he lived up to that is a large debate at the moment.

Now, it’s not my job to speak for the Lantix community, but I did watch the movie and there were parts that I quite actually enjoyed and others that I think showcase clear problems in Hollywood that dark skinned POC have been talking about for years. I also think it provides room to open a conversation about what representation really means and how it should be handled.

I’ll start with my pros–the first thing being the music. This is Miranda’s specialty and has been for years. He knows how to write a good musical, and as an avid Hamilton fan, I expected no less here. I also really enjoyed the acting and the characters. Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) was a very charismatic lead and Benny (Corey Hawkins) had a certain energy that just brought a smile to my face every time he was on screen. All these characters had very real issues, dreams, and setbacks that so many people can relate to. Like Nina (Leslie Grace) being the first person in her family to go to college and all the pressure that came with it. The gentrification of their neighborhood was also a thing. It’s a serious issue in poorer communities,  and unfortunately,  it happens often. I’m glad that wasn’t shied away from here.

While there is a wonderful and gifted cast, I do have cons. I for one do believe it is an artist’s duty to the audience and the world to include more than one race, skin color, sexuality, or gender in their art. Because these are just people, real people, and there is not a world, fictional or not, where they could not exist easily in the story you are looking to tell. Miranda took a hit for not including enough dark skinned characters in the movie. He ended up taking to social media and issuing an apology:  “I hear that, without sufficient dark-skinned Afro-Latino representation, the world feels extractive of the community we wanted so much to represent with pride and joy. In trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short. I’m truly sorry.”

Whether this apology  is sufficient enough to accept is up to you.

Comedian/TV personality  Bill Maher had his own take on this topic, “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 f*ck up. Sit down. Listen to your elders. Stop bitching,” Maher believes that Miranda should not have apologized for making the movie he made. He shares a mindset that I’ve seen so many other people adapt; a mindset that is easy for them to have because white, heterosexual men and their stories have always been told. It’s okay for them not to care about representation because they’ve always had it.

This issue is one we can obviously see in films that were made for people who the world had neglected to show on TV, in books, and in film. The fact of the matter is Black Lantix identification is most prevalent amongst Dominicans and nearly half of the residents of Washington heights identify as Dominican. So there being no Afro-Lantion’s at the forefront of this story makes very little sense.

Lin Manuel Miranda is not the first to fail in this department and I fear he won’t be the last because when people speak on this topic, oftentimes they’re not heard. They’re being “nitpicky” and are  “never satisfied”.

Except they’re not.

They’re asking for something very simple and that is to be shown in art as real people, not background actors or extras, but characters who are complex and real.

I mean, do dark skin women not go to college? Ahem… “Grownish”. Is it so unbelievable that an Asian woman can be more than just the butt of all your jokes? And yes, I’m talking to you “Glee.”

Overall I think every creator can learn something from this fallout, and for the sake of us, and doing justice to your story, create characters that are just like the people you see out in the world every day. Muslim or gay, Black or South Asian we’re real and our stories should be told too.


By Kendal Amos, Incoming Junior, Little Black Pearl

Instagram: kendal.amos

Written by Kendal Amos

16 years old. Reader/writer/lame musical enthusiast

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