Prolific composer, lyricist, actor, and award-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda is perhaps best known for the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, which he created and starred in.
His other smash Broadway musical, In the Heights, is receiving the big-screen treatment, coming to theaters and HBO Max on June 11 for everyone to enjoy.
When Miranda first pitched In the Heights, he was questioned on exactly what he was selling.
In an interview given to Variety, he said, “They wanted the young female protagonist Nina, who drops out of Stanford, to have a more dramatic reason for leaving school than the pressures of being the first in her family to go to college.”
He continues saying, “Because the pressure of leaving your neighborhood to go to school is f***ing enough. I promise. And if it’s not dramatic enough, that’s on us to show you the f***ing stakes.”
In the Heights is partially based on Miranda’s own personal experiences of growing up in the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York, while realizing that there were limited Broadway roles for members of the Latinx community.
He wrote the songbook as a mix of salsa and hip-hop, paying tribute to this tight-knit community who strives to make it big in New York City and beyond. Ultimately, in 2008, the musical opened on Broadway, leading to four Tony awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score.
The movie was directed by Jon M. Chu, who was also in charge of the 2018 blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians. In the Heights could not have been released in a more perfect time due to the message it spreads. After almost a year and a half stuck at home, this movie provides escapism to the life we hope to get back to very soon.
“The characters have an uninhibited zest for life, dancing in the streets, across fire escapes and through city parks,” Chu told Variety. “This is a vaccine for your soul.”
The story centers on a bodega owner, Usnavi, who’s working for enough money to retire and return to the Dominican Republic. However, he has doubts about leaving as the people on his block have become like family. Some of the characters include Nina, played by Leslie Grace, Benny, played by Corey Hawkins, and Vanessa, played by Melissa Barrera. These characters are layered well, in that the conflicts are actual problems and don’t bend to stereotypical Hollywood portrayals of the Latinx community.
Initially, Universal Pictures was to the produce In the Heights, but they stipulated one condition: they wanted a Latinx artist like Jennifer Lopez or Shakira to be the protagonist. The studio did not want to risk 37 million dollars to feature unknown actors in a major motion picture.
Warner Bros. Pictures Group quickly made a compelling case and both parties closed the deal with a 55 million dollar budget. Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group, told Variety, “It felt like something fresh and new, but it’s a classic story about people and their dreams and losses. It touches on relatable themes for anyone who is human.”
One word of the script had to be changed due to a reference to Donald Trump that may not have resonated well with the Latinx community.
The line is as follows: “I’ll be a businessman richer than Nina’s daddy; Donald Trump and I on the links, and he’s my caddie!” Instead, the new line replaces the former President’s name with “Tiger Woods.”
Miranda said “When I wrote it…he was an avatar for the Monopoly man. He was just, like, a famous rich person. Then when time moves on and he becomes the stain on American democracy, you change the lyric. Time made a fool of that lyric, and so we changed it.”
The movie was filmed during 2019, and was ready to be released in summer of 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to those plans; Warner Bros. postponed the film’s release by a year.
Whereas Miranda was upset by this development, Chu made him view this delay in a more positive manner.
Miranda said “Jon’s argument to me…is, we can release it now and people would feel good to have it in their homes…Or we can release it with the right push next year, and then we create a lane of Latinx stars so that I never have to sit in a meeting and hear someone say, ‘Do they test international?’”
In the Heights is set to be a movie that embraces Latinx culture and provides a way for others to see the reality that this community faces. As a Latina myself, it is so empowering to see a story with a portrayal of characters that represents this culture in a way that does not hurt them.
This movie is expected to be one of the main events of the summer. Latinxs presente!
PHOTO COURTESY of Monmouth University