Anthony Ramos as Usnavi in "In The Heights". Picture: Warner Bros.
Anthony Ramos as Usnavi in "In The Heights". Picture: Warner Bros.

Anthony Ramos refutes allegations of colourism ‘In The Heights’

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Jun 18, 2021

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The Jon M. Chu-directed musical drama, “In The Heights” has been heaped with praise and criticism. Allow me to contextualise this statement.

While many critics have been gushing over the exuberant big-screen adaptation of Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical of the same title, it has also come under fire for its alleged failure to justly represent dark-skinned Afro-Latinos.

Despite the raging debate over this colourism issue, there is no mistaking the “Crazy Rich Asians” director’s Midas touch in delivering a feature that is vibrant and brimming with hope and a powerful sense of community.

And Anthony Ramos, who is in his element in musicals and even toured for the 2012 musical of “In The Heights”, is chuffed to have bagged the role of Usnavi de la Vega.

Set in the largely Dominican neighbourhood of Washington Heights, the story follows the bumpy relationship of two couples: Usnavi and aspirant fashion designer Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) as well as Benny (Corey Hawkins), an off-license taxi dispatcher, and Nina (Leslie Grace), a university dropout.

The themes in the movie struck a chord with Ramos.

He shared: “It means everything to me. Being of Puerto Rican descent from New York, my family’s from Puerto Rico - from Naguabo, Fajardo, Ponce, family in Lares.

“It means a lot to be able to be in a cast that has so many people from so many different countries and backgrounds, too.

“And everybody’s a different colour in this movie. The shade goes from the lightest to the darkness in this film and that’s what gets me so hyped.

“That’s what I’m most grateful for, is that we get to see this wide spectrum of what the Latino community looks like around the world. Colombians, Panamanians, people from Paraguay, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico.

“We get to run the gamut in this film. And it’s a blessing for me to watch this as an audience member because I never saw anything like it growing up.

Director Jon M. Chu. Picture: Richard Shotwell/AP

“As a kid, I didn’t see characters that look like me, sound like me or talk about the food that I eat or walk on streets that feel familiar to me, where the music sounds like music I grew up listening to. I just didn’t.

“We didn’t have that. Our heroes in our movie never resembled us.”

As for being directed by M. Chu, there was no masking his admiration of the director.

He said: “Working on a set with Jon was one of the best experiences of my whole life.

“That guy is a visionary. He’s also one of the most emotionally connected people I’ve ever met, just in life.

“Jon would walk over to us after some takes and you’d see his eyes red and watering, and he’s giving us direction.

“Jon’s like, ‘You okay, brother?’ I’m like, ‘Yo, you okay?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, no, I’m good. That one was really good.

“I just felt that.’ Jon feels every moment deeply and he’s brilliant at what he does.”

Anthony Ramos at the "In The Heights" trailer launch event. Picture: Warner Bros.

The 29-year-old fresh-faced lead continued: “And that’s a gift to have a director who is so emotionally connected on such a deep level and not just himself, but with the people around him.

“His level of empathy is through the roof.

“And then, at the same time, he understands what looks better.”

He recalled: “I felt a lot of pressure, especially after Lin wrote on the cover of my script, ‘Don’t F*** It Up’ (Laughs).

“I won’t hide that it was a lot, but you cannot ask for better partners than Quiara and Lin, and people who trust the form of film and the role of the director.

“They gave me a process that allowed me to ask the stupid questions, to figure things out, to make wrong turns sometimes and come back. I think that’s ultimately what eased that pressure.”

As for bagging Ramos, he shared: “Anthony Ramos is our North Star in physical and spiritual form.

“He understood what it felt like growing up in a neighbourhood like this in New York - he grew up with it.

“He understood what it felt like to sing and to move, out of a place of necessity, to express himself.

“It was both difficult to find him, but then made my job a hundred times easier to follow his lead.”

“In The Heights” is currently showing as cinemas, nationwide.

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