Iconic actress Rita Morena has hit back at criticism of Lin-Manuel Miranda and the decision to only cast “white-passing” Latino people in In The Heights.

Miranda, the creator of the smash Broadway play and new film which was released on HBO Max and in theaters on Friday, apologized on Monday after a colorism debate began over the lack of Afro-Latinos in the film.

But now Rita, who is from Puerto Rico and who found fame in the 1960s in West Side Story, has admitted the conversation has left her “upset”.

“You can never do right, it seems,” the 89-year-old told 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 single handedly, and I’m thrilled to pieces and I’m proud that he produced my documentary.”

Credit: WB

Asking her to clarify her remarks, Rita – one of only 23 people to have an EGOT – added: “Well I’m simply saying, can’t you just wait a while and leave it alone? There’s a lot of people who are Puertorriqueños, who are also from Guatemala, who are dark and who are also fair. We are all colors in Puerto Rico. And this is how it is, and it would be so nice if they hadn’t come up with that and just left it alone, just for now. I mean, they’re really attacking the wrong person.”

Several Twitter threads and a piece in The Root last week have debated this topic, questioning why the film, set in New York’s Washington Heights neighbourhood, failed to cast Afro-Latino actors.

Lin later took to Twitter to issue a statement and an apology, sharing that he heard “the hurt and frustration” and that he “fell short”.

“I can hear the hurt and frustration over colorism, of feeling still unseen in the feedback,” he tweeted. “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. In trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short. I’m truly sorry. I’m learning from the feedback, I thank you for raising it, and I’m listening.”