The year is 2015. Hamilton has debuted on Broadway, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is rapidly reaching the peak of his popularity.
The year is 2021. In the Heights has just debuted on HBO Max and in theatres, and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s star, already damaged over the past five years for a variety of reasons, might be starting to dim.
There’s a stanza in “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man,” a classic song featured in Fosse/Verdon, in which Lin-Manuel Miranda cameo’d as Roy Scheider filming All That Jazz. It goes: “Some men are heroes/Some men outshine the sun/Some men are simple, good men/This man wasn’t one.” Miranda cameoing, completely out of place, in Fosse/Verdon might have been the time I started thinking “Boy, he is every annoying theatre kid made global superstar,” I’m afraid to say. But…am I just falling prey to a TikTok Gen Z trend, which is how Rolling Stone’s EJ Dickson characterized the growing dislike of Miranda, which seemed like it may have reached its apex in 2020? I’m a millennial, after all, an “old,” at this point in fandom. Shouldn’t I stand up for my fellow millennials?
Well, as the In the Heights colorism controversy and Miranda’s response(s) to it shows…not really? I recently watched In the Heights, and its sins — despite its fun — are great. Yes, it further marginalizes Afro-Latinx voices and faces, but it’s also a case of a creator not knowing when to leave well enough alone. There are many changes to In the Heights as a film that weren’t necessary: the cutting of Nina’s mother, the alteration of Abuela’s lottery ticket storyline, the framing device of Usnavi on an island when he’s really never there. The additional meddling in a musical that can stand on its own as great strikes me as odd and not welcome.
There’s also the controversy that surrounds Hamilton, the idea of whitewashing our founders/slavers’ legacies by casting black and brown actors. Hamilton does make most of these figures seem extremely appealing, however, most of them were terrible people who did approximately one great thing — and calling the founding of America entirely great could be debatable.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) June 14, 2021
The Rolling Stone piece does a great job picking out the little things that drove Gen Z crazy about Miranda last year, but the most egregious example might be how he consistently defends himself voraciously before immediately taking it back and promising to listen, most of the time in the same statement. He did it with Hamilton, both apologizing for not getting everything right but also arguing that he only had 2 and a half hours to show off a complicated history.
Now, with the In the Heights colorism controversy, he did it again, apologizing, but still ardently pushing the narrative that he and the other producers tried their best. There’s something grating about the apology for misdeeds and assertion of good deeds at the same time. Lin-Manuel Miranda is far from the only celebrity creator to do this. There are many others, and the fact that Miranda is Latinx while white creators often scoot by controversy-free in certain circles is not lost on me.
Jonathan Larson’s Rent, for example, gets all the praise in the world, despite its centering its HIV/AIDS narrative on a majority straight cast. There are a few prominent dissenters — notably video essayist Lindsay Ellis — but Larson is still lauded by multiple generations for his one major work. That Miranda is taking on Larson’s smaller work, tick, tick…boom! is an irony not lost on me. There are other musicals too — Ragtime was written entirely by white people, and it shows, and while mostly forgotten, it got acclaim in its day and a revival in 2009. The Book of Mormon was deemed satire, so its racist stereotypes were allowed. Should they have been?
Maybe there’s a feeling that, because he’s Latinx, Lin-Manuel Miranda should “know better,” but should he? He’s still a wealthy light-skinned man on top of his industry and that has to come with a whole load of shortsightedness. I’ll still enjoy parts of Hamilton, just like I enjoyed parts of In the Heights, and I’ll probably watch Miranda’s next project, but just like every creator with a ton of creative capital, he has to be held accountable — and not just by acerbic TikTok teens.