In Hollywood, trailer launch events are typically reserved for big blockbuster releases. Rarely, if ever, are they held for a musical helmed by a Latinx creator, directed by an Asian man, and featuring a largely Latinx, Afro-Latinx, and Black cast. But there hasn’t been a film like In The Heights until now.
The movie is adapted from the first Tony-winning musical created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, with the book written by Quiara Alegria Hudes. The show takes place in New York City’s Washington Heights (the neighborhood in which Miranda grew up) and follows its residents as they dream, struggle, hope, live, and love. The film stars Anthony Ramos (A Star Is Born) as Usnavi, the role originated by Miranda on Broadway; Melissa Barrera (Vida) as Vanessa; Leslie Grace as Nina; Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton) as Benny; Dasha Polanco (Orange is the New Black) as Cuca; Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn 99) as Carla; Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent) as Daniela; Jimmy Smits as Kevin Rosario; and Olga Merediz reprising Abuela, the role she originated on Broadway.
On Wednesday night, press and influencers were treated to an early viewing of the In The Heights trailer at 809 Restaurant on Washington Heights’ Dyckman Street. The second floor played host to a piragua vendor and a Tik Tok-sponsored bodega, a bar serving coquito and sangria, and plates filled with Puerto Rican and Dominican treats like sancocho, ceviche, and empanadas. Comedian and the evening’s host, Aida Rodriguez, kicked off the night with her own thoughts about In the Heights: Not only does it prove that Latinos are not a monolith, but it’s a story about a Black and brown community that isn’t “trauma porn.”
At a time when the Latinx community lives in fear, facing hatred from the current presidential administration and watching its children ripped from their parents and placed in cages, In The Heights represents a beacon of hope and a sign of change coming. “I think this is the perfect moment for this movie,” says Barrera. “It’s a celebration of our culture and our people at a moment when we desperately need it. We need to feel like we matter and that we are powerful and that our dreams are important, and this movie is that.
“It’s so full of life and it’s gonna get to people’s hearts in a way that they don’t even know what’s happening,” she continues. “It’s going to make our community cry from pride, the pride of seeing our flags on the big screen being shown around the world. It’s important.”
Ramos feels the same way. “It’s a moment in time for us, for all Latin communities. Wherever we come [from]—Mexico, Puerto Rico, Los Angeles, New York, wherever—this movie is a celebration of all of those places. To watch people that look like us, sound like us? How many years have we been waiting to have an opportunity to tell our story in this way? This means more than I can actually express right now.”
As for the creator himself, Miranda felt overcome with emotion while introducing the trailer onstage, as Hawkins told him In The Heights was what he thought all Broadway shows were like, because it was the first one he’d ever seen. “That was the most moving moment for me,” Miranda tells ELLE.com. “It’s what I didn’t see growing up, so what that represents to a generation of kids feels like I’ve done way more than I intended.”
When asked if he’s yet realized that his own kids won’t have that missing from their lives—that their father was key in giving visibility to Latinx stories so the next generation will not feel unseen—he takes a breath. “That’s complicated because it means the world to me. It’s a thrill when you hear your kids say ‘Daddy’ for the first time, but it’s crazy when you hear them say ‘Daddy’ and they point to the screen at something you’ve worked on. As a parent, you try to make a safer, better world for your kids, and realizing that’s what you were doing all along…it’s incredible.”
Polanco describes her role (brand-new and created for the film), as the “life of the party and a pillar in her community who loves the women she’s around.” She says that while it’s true that many Latinx stories feature trauma, she believes “we find joy in everything, even in trauma…in everything that is fragmented, there is beauty to be found and beauty is when you can move forward from that broken-ness and be able to rise.” She added that the difference with In The Heights is “there are moments where we are broken, we are impacted and affected, but still, we rise. We embrace our surroundings and say we aren’t gonna give up, we’re gonna move forward, and we’re gonna push through.”
As the celebration winds down, Barrera looks around, and through joyful tears exclaims, “I just can’t believe I get to be part of this. I feel like it’s going to be game-changing for us. There’s so much love behind this movie and it’s gonna transcend the screen. I just hope that it’s received with that same amount of love because it’s our moment. It’s here—this is it.”
In The Heights opens June 26, 2020.