Last night in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, the cast and crew of director Jon M. Chu‘s (Crazy Rich Asians) film adaptation of In the Heights gathered to celebrate the release of the film’s first trailer. In the Heights was originally a musical written by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Hamilton writer Lin-Manuel Miranda in the early to mid-2000s. Hudes and Miranda both participated in the making of the film as well, with the former as screenplay writer and the latter as producer and actor, as they consider In the Heights to be more relevant to the Hispanic-American experience now than ever.
During the event, Miranda was asked about how the film adaptation of In the Heights will speak to modern audiences. He responded:
“Everything in these songs existed in 2008 and now it’s even more radical…we have an administration that’s never been more hostile to the latino community…pick your spot, whether it’s the border or it’s Puerto Rico. It’s indifference, and/or contempt. The fact that we have a big Hollywood movie where we are asserting that we are the next wave of the American dream and that we came here to make a better life for our kids. I think it’s super important. I didn’t mean for it to be radical. I wish it weren’t radical. But it happens to be, this year.”
Later that night, the Beat also caught up with Hudes to talk further about how she, as screenplay writer for the film adaptation, modernized In the Heights for present day America. According to her, “there’s a plotline…one of the characters is discovered to be undocumented. That was not in the original stage show.”
Furthering the conversation, throughout the night, everyone involved with the film who was present at the event focused on how important the Washington Heights community was in making In the Heights a reality. Both Miranda and Hudes still call the heights their home, and Chu quickly felt like he was folded into the community as they shot the film on location. He told a story about how his mom came to visit during filming. The production had “shut down a street, and people yell at you sometimes for shutting down the street and that’s fine…but they also will then invite my mom…she disappears, and I’m like “where’d my mom go?” and she’s having beer inside a kitchen with the neighbors!”
Cast member Jimmy Smits, who plays Kevin Rosario, followed up by saying that because of how specific the film is in its voice, the creative team behind In the Heights has crafted a story that feels “universal.”
Others cast members present at the event included Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Veatriz, Dascha Polanco, and Olga Merediz.
Ramos, who plays lead character Usnavi de la Vega, reflected on how the original Broadway production of In the Heights gave him the motivation to continue to pursue his acting career. He said that he had “wanted to quit,” but when he saw the production on a lark, he discovered that it was actually the “first time I saw a show where it was like…I don’t relate to these characters, I know them…I saw Usnavi, and Usnavi was a guy…he has big dreams…his dreams are so big that he’s so scared of them. I relate to that guy.” Turning to his cast mates, he reflected on the challenges and adversity that they all faced as actors and as people in America, saying that “there are so many people who have told me know. There are so many reasons why I shouldn’t be up [on stage]…so many reasons why we all shouldn’t be up [on stage]. But we’re here.”