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Lin-Manuel Miranda has become a megastar over the past few years, thanks to his Broadway musical Hamilton becoming a global sensation. But his first musical In the Heights was what put him on the map, and allowed a project like Hamilton to come together. In the Heights just got a movie adaptation by Crazy Rich Asians filmmaker John M. Chu, and Miranda recently explained why this new version of the story added a plot line about undocumented immigrants and DREAMers.
Turning a stage musical into a film comes with a unique set of challenges. For In the Heights some songs and characters were cut, as screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes reworked the story. This includes having Usnavi’s cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV) struggle with his documentation status in a plot line surrounding the DREAM Act. As you can see from the video above, I had the privilege of speaking with Lin-Manuel Miranda about the various changes made to In the Heights-- where he shared why immigration became such a theme of the film version. He told me,
The concept of DREAMers and undocumented immigrants, which is on the front page of the conversation the Latino population of the United States is having with itself. To have one of the most beloved characters in the show struggling with that status, it just makes it real for people in a way that a headline doesn’t. That issue has gotten so much more divisive and that discourse has gotten so much more toxic. That to just actually say, ‘And this character you love is dealing with the same thing’ it sneaks by and into your heart in a different way.
Well, this makes a great deal of sense. Hot topic political issues are often hard to discuss, and there’s currently a ton of conversation about immigration in the United States. What In the Heights aims to do is make the subject far more human, specifically by tethering a beloved character to it throughout the movie. What’s more, it represents a very real issue happening to Latino communities, including the titular New York City barrio.
In the Heights will be released on HBO Max at the same time as theaters. You can use this link to sign up for the streaming service.
While audiences will have to wait for In the Heights to arrive to see exactly how this new storytelling dynamic plays out, the trailers consistently mention the DREAMers, and you can hear Sonny’s voice specifically. Gregory Diaz IV’s character is one of the most politically-minded from the original musical, so it’s a fitting pairing that’ll make sense to hardcore fans.
In the Heights was originally meant to arrive last summer, before being pushed back a full year as a result of global health concerns. In the summer of 2020 the DREAM Act was arguably an even more hot button issue, which makes the addition of Sonny’s story all the more timely. We’ll just have to wait and see how audiences respond when the In the Heights finally arrives this weekend.