Filming on the set for “In the Heights” went beyond shooting a musical for stars Melissa Barrera and Leslie Grace. The emotional journey allowed them to represent the Latinx community in a way that they say has never before been seen on screen.
“The entire thing for me felt like a dream sequence,” said Barrera. “Everything was so beautiful and perfect, and everyone involved was such a good person.”
During a panel discussion at the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP)’s 21st Annual Media Summit, held virtually for the first time due to the pandemic, the actors discussed the significance of the upcoming Warner Bros. film, based on the stage musical of the same name by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the pressure of representing Latinidad.
“You see a lot of these moments very clear in the film where a character is about to give up and they have someone else come and lift them out of the slump they find themselves in,” said Barrera. “And that is a beautiful message because that is the essence of Latinidad. That is who we are.”
The film marks Grace’s acting debut after making a name for herself as a singer.
“As my first film, to play Nina, I felt like that was a huge responsibility,” said Grace. “And I felt the weight of my parents’ sacrifices and my family’s sacrifices on my back as I stepped on to set everyday.”
Grace and Barrera both felt the pressure to represent an entire community.
“I always felt like everything I do elevates my family,” said Barrera. “If I do something, my triumph doesn’t belong to me because I didn’t do it by myself. I did it with the help of my mom, who sacrificed everything to give me a good education, with the support of my sisters; if they did not believe in me I probably wouldn’t be doing this…And even me being Mexican in the United States and not being a citizen I feel like I’m representing my country.”
However, Barrera clarifies the pressure is not a burden, but an honor. According to the stars, the film does not relate to one specific Latinx community, but embraces them all. The message of the film, they added, is able to resonate with all of the culture in a way where they can celebrate their similarities and not their differences.
“I think it’s a message of unity, and I also think it’s a message of home,” said Grace. “You get to choose home, you get to choose your dreams, you get to choose what your potential is and sometimes you have to go through heartbreak, but you can celebrate even through defeat.”
“In the Heights” was originally supposed to premiere in theaters this month on June 28, but due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s now set to release June 21, 2021.
“This movie, for me, is all about how we do belong,” Barrera explained. “This is us. We made this community and look at us thrive in the midst of pain, in the midst of uncertainty, in the midst of the hussle and the struggle, but we rise up, and we rise up together.”