Lynn-Manuel Miranda was 19 when he first wrote what he called a “very bad musical,” with only five notes in the final version of In the Heights, which won four Tony Awards since its premiere. on Broadway in 2008
Now, after a long transition to get the right studio to produce the film adaptation, the long-awaited film premieres on Thursday. Like the stage version, it breaks through because it focuses on Latin characters that have long been missing from mass films, television shows and theater productions.
“In the Heights” tells the stories of generations of residents and business owners in the predominantly Latin American neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York ̵
Miranda and his co-writer, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quara Allegria Hudes, had to fight film directors and producers who wanted to rely on worn-out tropes that disproportionately portrayed Latinos as aid, criminals, or people living alone. injuries live.
“Kiara and I stuck to our weapons and stuck to what we thought was important in the show’s story,” such as Nina, one of the main characters, embodies the internal conflicts of a first-generation student, Miranda told NBC News. Making this central female character clever, the Stanford University student was one of many deliberately created roles that resonated with Latin American audiences when the musical came out.
Achieving non-stereotypical images of Latinos requires “a lot of gut checks” during the audit process to ensure that he has remained true to “what your non-contractors are,” Miranda said.
He remembered a time when a producer he admired made him question his own ability to compose music for In the Heights.
“People who are in the fields of other people’s stories most of the time in mass Hollywood or Broadway, they get the spotlight.” – Lynn-Manuel Miranda
“And then my gut hurt in my stomach,” Miranda said. “And I said, ‘If I don’t know how to write songs for this neighborhood, then no one knows how to write songs for this neighborhood. That’s the only thing I know I can actually do.’
Overloading the film with Latin American visibility, from the main cast to the extras, allowed talented Latin American artists to emphasize the dynamics, humanity and struggle of a community that often feels unnoticed.
“This summer of 2019, shooting the film was so magical, but it almost didn’t feel real,” Miranda said of the film’s shooting in her own neighborhood in northern Manhattan.
Hoods, who wrote the book about the musical version of In the Heights and the screenplay for the film adaptation, said some of the magic came from the film’s inherent “healing spirit.”
“Part of this healing happens through loud music and dancing. Another part of this healing happens through the individual stories, and although everyone has a different path in this film, they are related to similar issues – especially as immigrants, as migrants. Is it there at home? Is he here at home? Is there only one home or can we carry many homes within us? “Hoods said. “What about when we love this home, but have dreams of surpassing it? Does this betray this home? ”
Making new stars
Like “Black Panther” for black actors and “Crazy Rich Asians” for Asian actors, “In the Heights” stands out by showcasing Latin talents, including faces and voices that are not yet household names.
In an analysis of the University of Southern California’s inclusion initiative, Annenberg found that only 4.9% of the cast in the best films of 2019 went to Latinos, even though they make up nearly 19% of the nation’s population. . Forty-four of the top 100 films this year had absolutely no Latino characters with speaking roles, a percentage that did not differ much from 2018 (47 films) or 2015 (40 films).
“We make up for lost time,” Miranda said.
In an attempt to curb this trend, Hoods said it was intentional when he wrote.
“As a playwright, as a screenwriter, I create jobs. I have to create roles for actors. So, I think very carefully what would be a great job to create, “she said.
With the help of film director John M. Chu, the filmmakers have introduced an effective mix of new, emerging talent and famous veteran actors such as Jimmy Smiths and Olga Meredith, who plays her favorite role of Abuela Claudia (Grandma Claudia) from the original. version on Broadway. The formula of established and new actors proved successful in Chu’s blockbuster for 2018 “Crazy Rich Asians”.
“He wanted to make stars” and “invite a new generation of talent who didn’t yet have the capabilities of this great platform,” Hades said of Chu’s vision.
The host of this new generation of Latino actors in the Hollywood film is Anthony Ramos, who plays Usnavi, the owner of the bodega who dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic.
Growing up in Bushwick, Brooklyn, another predominantly Latino neighborhood in New York, and playing Usnavi for three weeks in a Kennedy Center production in 2018, he gave Ramos the right amount of personal and professional experience to play his biggest role. since his Oscar-winning film A Star Is Born and starring as John Lawrence and Philip Hamilton in the Miranda Award-winning Broadway hit Hamilton.
Ramos, 29, had a motto on the set: “It’s for the mother —— culture. Let’s go, he would say in a real hip-masculine way.
Ramos said the thought that “this movie is about something so much bigger than you” helped him with long hours of rehearsals and shoots, no matter how tired he felt. At the same time, he said, his inner child will remind him how much he wanted a movie like “On Heights” when he grew up.
Invisible no more
Meredith, 65, said she remembered filming in Washington Heights and seeing “the real people who live there, walking the streets and I would go, ‘Look, there’s Abuela, there’s Daniela,'” he said. some of the main characters from the movie.
“They were the real people in the neighborhood we portrayed,” Meredith said. “And I like to play characters that aren’t usually seen – to illuminate this little old lady we ignore is invisible.”
In In the Heights, Abuela Claudia is the typical matriarch. She left Cuba in 1943 and settled in the neighborhood, eventually becoming the surrogate grandmother of all the young people there.
Meredith, the most likely contender for the Oscar film, said she was inspired by some of the mother’s figures in her life, including her aunt and mother.
“I wanted to make it for this man, to whom everyone had gone for advice or for a nice, cooked meal,” Meredith said. “She has lived so long, she has so much to offer. But I wanted to give her that extra kindness we all need. “
Abuela Claudia’s kind heart is fully shown during Meredith’s masterful performance of what Miranda described as a “six-minute aria” called “Paciencia y Fe” (“Patience and Faith”). In it, viewers see how this elderly woman strives to preserve her dignity by holding on to a collection of details and memories that remind her of her humanity, despite the difficulties.
“For me, these are some of the things that make this special,” Miranda said. “People who are in the fields of other people’s stories most of the time in mass Hollywood or Broadway, they get the spotlight.”
Asked if “In the Heights” marks a key time for Latin representation in Hollywood, Miranda said: “I hope so.” His cautious optimism comes from his previous attempt to bring “In the Heights” to Broadway and see how the show has managed to increase diversity and audience attendance during its three-year cycle – and then goodbye, Miranda said.
“What do people write?” What do you produce? What do you leave your money on stage for? Said Miranda. “If you don’t build it, they won’t come, and if you don’t support Latin American talent behind the scenes.”
But Meredith is more optimistic at the moment.
“I think this is a turning point. Finally, after trying so much. Is this our time? She said, “I think it’s our time.”
I follow NBC Latin On Facebook,, Twitter and Instagram.