Lin-Manuel Miranda is best known for his creation of the musical Hamilton which made its first Broadway debut on Aug. 6, 2015. Although his successes include the production of Tony award-winning musicals including Hamilton and In the Heights, the Pulitzer Prize in Drama and several Olivier Awards, these successes did not come without backlash from his audiences.
A prime example of this backlash arose after Miranda’s film adaptation of the original musical In the Heights, which premiered on Jun.10, 2021. Fans of Miranda, especially those belonging to the Latinx community were overjoyed at the news of a film adaptation of the musical they felt represented them so well. The days following the film’s release, however, instead shed light on an issue pertaining to the misrepresentation of the Latinx community through colorism.
According to an article by CNN, actress Franceli Chapman recalls getting emotional when seeing In the Heights on Broadway in college. It was the “first time she had ever felt her neighborhood and her people [were] reflected on stage.” Although she appreciated the film in a similar way, Chapman recalls feeling like “the ball was dropped” when the leads for the film were cast. She further explains the variety of skin colors present in the Latinx community of Washington Heights, and how “what it looks like is not being reflected on the screen.” In addition, Afro-Latina actress Grasie Mercedes shares, “It would have been nice to see at least one of the leads be an Afro-Latinx person of dark skin to really represent those people who are always shut out.”
After receiving such outward backlash, not only from common spectators but also from Latinx people in the acting industry, Lin-Manuel Miranda confronted these frustrations head-on and took to social media in doing so. CBC reports on a tweet Miranda wrote, where he outwardly recognized that “in trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short.” In defense of her producer, actress Melissa Barrera claims that although there were “a lot of Afro-Latinos” at the auditions, Miranda and his director Jon M. Chu were “looking for just the right people for the roles,” and for people who “embodied each character in the fullest extent.” In conclusion to his tweet, Miranda closes with the statement, “I promise to do better in my future projects,” and to “make sure we are honoring our diverse and vibrant community.”
Flash forward to Nov. 24, 2021, the Disney animated film Encanto premiered on Disney Plus for the first time. With music and screenplay written by Miranda, Encanto tells the story of the Madrigal family who was given the blessing of an enchanted home that provides each child with a magical gift when they come of age. As the only family member not blessed with magical abilities, Mirabel must find a way to save her family’s magic when she discovers it is in grave danger.
In contrast with the film adaptation of In the Heights, Encanto features characters of many skin colors. As an improvement, one-third of the Madrigal family including the characters of Felix, Dolores, Camilo and Antonio are all Afro-Latinx individuals. In addition to representing the previously neglected Afro-Latinx community, directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush also included characters with different facial structures and hair types among the Latinx community, as well as characters with different body types in general. As stated best by Netherland News Live, the film incorporates characters, in some cases, that particularly “don’t count as classically beautiful.”
Fans are responding in an overwhelmingly positive way to Miranda’s recent work with Encanto. Not only is this representation impacting those older audience members who have been waiting patiently to see an accurate depiction of themselves in film, but it is also transforming the ways that our youth feel towards their identities. One Twitter user, @MrLukeCarthy, writes, “The hair, the culture, skin color, being ‘seen.’ So important.”
With his connection to Encanto and the film’s major success, Lin-Manuel Miranda is gradually regaining the respect of those in his shared Latinx community.