“The whole thing is a love letter to this incredible neighborhood. It’s a first chapter in so many stories—American stories start here.” Lin-Manuel Miranda is effusive when he talks about Washington Heights, the neighborhood that is his home—up in the northernmost part of Manhattan, beginning at 155th Street and stretching for nearly 40 blocks. But perhaps he is even more exuberant discussing the upcoming musical play-turned-film inspired by that community, In the Heights.
In the Heights fuses Miranda’s kinetic music and lyrics with director Jon M. Chu’s (Crazy Rich Asians) lively and authentic eye for storytelling to capture a world very much of its place, but universal in its experience.
In the Heights stars Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born, Broadway’s Hamilton), Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island), singer/songwriter Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera (TV’s Vida), Olga Merediz (Broadway’s In the Heights), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Broadway’s Rent), Gregory Diaz IV (Broadway’s Matilda the Musical), Stephanie Beatriz (TV’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Dascha Polanco (TV’s Orange Is the New Black) and Jimmy Smits (the Star Wars films).
Miranda explains, “It’s always been an immigrant community. Now, it’s a Latinx neighborhood; it was Dominican when I was growing up in the ‘80s. Before that, it was Irish, it was Italian, it was Jewish. It’s always the first chapter in so many stories, and that’s what makes it universal. And being first-generation kids, we always wonder, what would it have been like if our parents had stayed?”
He adds, “Those really personal questions—what does ‘home’ even mean? And every character in this is answering it in a different way. For some, home is somewhere else, and for others, home is the block
that they’re on. That’s worth singing about and worth celebrating in a movie of this size.”
Director Chu grew up far from New York City in California but felt a personal connection to the story as a first-gen American as well. “I knew what it felt like to be an immigrant kid,” he offers, “and to watch the community that grew out of that and to decide: what do you choose
to carry forward as an American now living here and calling this place home?
“This past year has been hard for everybody, we had to deal with a lot,” Chu continues. “And the only people we could turn to were each other. That’s the spirit of this movie—that’s what Lin and Quiara created so many years ago and that I’ve been lucky enough to be invited in to. It’s what you
felt on the streets of Washington Heights every day before the pandemic. I got to learn day-by-day, listening and discovering every word, every line and what they meant in the musical. Along the way, I could not have anticipated the amount of stuff that I would learn about simply being a human being.”
Also a resident of Washington Heights, screenwriter and producer Quiara Alegría Hudes— who also wrote the book for the original musical—says, “I’m like my parents were. They came from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia—I came from Philly to New York. There’s a line in the movie, ‘We’re a
people on the move.’ For me, it’s about the heart, integrity and intentionality behind the life you live.”
Adding, “Now, I have new neighbors here, and I’m getting to know a new barrio in Washington Heights. Some of that heart is the same—check on your neighbor, the old lady who lives on the corner, as you’re walking by. Does she need groceries or a coffee? That’s the little, humble seeds that become these big numbers onscreen. That’s the heart behind it, these little interactions that together weave a really wide fabric. That to me is home—the intentionality you bring with you wherever you are.”
Ultimately, Miranda believes In the Heights is a musical portrait of a community full of lively numbers as diverse as its cast. The story weaves together an ensemble of characters during one particular summer of seismic change in all of their lives, with much of the action taking place at one intersection central to the neighborhood. “The songs and dances cover a variety of styles—from hip-hop to Latin to pop and musical theater—and this provides ample opportunity to explore the varied influences of the distinct Latin cultures that merge and continue to populate and represent Washington Heights. “
He adds, “Hopefully, even though this is a little microcosm in upper Manhattan in New York, people will see more commonalities than differences. Nothing better than music and dance to be the common glue to bring all of that, and us, together.”
Miranda hopes the positive spirit that buoys the film will be something that stays with viewers: “Right now, I want to go to the movies and feel great and have a blast, and I think In the Heights does those things.”
Chu feels that In the Heights arrived at exactly the right time in a more personal way: “This project came at a time in my life when I was asking myself what I was contributing to this medium that I love so much. And I remembered seeing the original Broadway production… and I had a feeling that this was really something I was meant to do—to bring it to the big screen.”
Slated to open on June 11, 2021 in theaters and on HBO Max, the film will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures. It will be available on
HBO Max for 31 days from theatrical release. In the Heights is rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive references.
The film is currently at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Will this be the film that pulls you back to the theaters?