Rita Moreno Defends Lin-Manuel Miranda Amid 'In the Heights' Colorism Criticism: It 'Upsets Me'

"You can never do right, it seems," EGOT winner Rita Moreno said Tuesday on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in defense of Lin-Manuel Miranda

Rita Moreno and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Rita Moreno and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

Rita Moreno is addressing the criticism about Lin-Manuel Miranda's film adaptation of In the Heights — specifically, discussions centered on colorism.

On Tuesday's episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the EGOT winner said that negative feedback toward Miranda about race in the film's casting "really upsets me."

"You can never do right, it seems," Moreno, 89, told host Stephen Colbert. "This is the man who literally has brought Latino-ness and Puerto Rican-ness to America. I couldn't do it. I would love to say I did, but I couldn't. Lin-Manuel has done that really singlehandedly and I'm thrilled to pieces, and I'm proud that he produced my documentary [Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It]."

When asked by Colbert, 57, whether she understands "where people's concerns come from" and whether she thinks the criticism against Miranda, 41, specifically is "misplaced," the actress — who will appear in the upcoming remake of West Side Story, 60 years after starring in the original film — replied, "I'm simply saying, 'Can't you just wait a while and leave it alone?' "

"There's a lot of people who are Puertorriqueño, who are also from Guatemala, who are dark and who are also fair. We are all colors in Puerto Rico," she added. "This is how it is, and it would be so nice if they hadn't come up with that and left it alone, just for now. I mean, they're really attacking the wrong person."

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Rita Moreno and <a href="https://people.com/tag/lin-manuel-miranda/" data-inlink="true">Lin-Manuel Miranda</a>
Rita Moreno and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

Miranda, who produced and stars in the film which is based on his smash Broadway hit, posted an apology Monday after the film's director Jon M. Chu and cast members Melissa Barrera and Leslie Grace were asked about the colorism and casting choices within the film in an interview.

"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," he wrote in a statement on Twitter. "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."

Miranda continued, "I can hear the hurt and frustration over colorism, of feeling unseen in the feedback. I hear that without sufficient dark-skinned Afro-Latino representation, the work feels extractive of the community we wanted so much to represent with pride and joy."

The writer and composer added that "in trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short."

"I'm truly sorry," he wrote. "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. Thanks 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."

in the heights
In the Heights. Macall Polay. inset: getty

RELATED VIDEO: Lin-Manuel Miranda Apologizes for Colorism in In The Heights: "I Promise to Do Better"

Chu and actresses Barrera, 30, and Grace, 26, were asked about the lack of Afro-Latino actors in leading roles within the musical film in an interview with The Root's Felice Léon.

León — who described herself as a "Black woman of Cuban descent" — asked Chu, Barrera and Grace about "the lack of Black Latinx people represented" in the film considering the movie's main cast "were light-skinned or white-passing Latinx people."

"Yeah, I mean I think that that was something we talked about and I needed to be educated about, of course," responded Chu, 41. "In the end, when we were looking at the cast, we were trying to get the people who were best for those roles and that specifically, and we saw a lot of people, people like Daphne [Rubin-Vega], or Dascha [Polanco]."

"But I hear you on trying to fill those cast members with darker-skinned [actors]. I think that's a really good conversation to have, something that we should all be talking about," he added.

In The Heights is now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

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