Award-winning "Hamilton" composer, lyricist and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda and film director Jon M. Chu might be the ideal dynamic duo to bring Latinos the "Crazy Rich Asians" moment many have been craving for.
Chu, who directed "Crazy Rich Asians," partnered with Miranda and screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes to adapt Miranda's Tony-winning musical "In The Heights" into a film set to be released in 2020 during the summer.
"In The Heights" is a story "about a block that is disappearing" and follows the lives of several characters dealing with issues of family, love and community as gentrification begins to take hold of their beloved, predominantly Latino neighborhood. The musical was praised for countering Latino stereotypes; one of the main characters, Nina, is a studious, ambitious young Latina who goes to Stanford University.
On Wednesday night, Chu and Miranda presented the trailer of the awaited movie in a crowded restaurant amid Latin music, food and drinks in the same predominantly Latino neighborhood of New York City's Washington Heights where they shot the film earlier this year — and where Miranda grew up.
"It's been a long road to get here, so I'm thrilled that we're here," said Miranda, who was accompanied by the film's all-star cast, which include Latino celebrities such as "The West Wing's" Jimmy Smits, "Orange Is The New Black's" Dascha Polanco, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine's" Stephanie Beatriz and Daphne Rubin-Vega, who originated the role of Mimi Marquez in the iconic Broadway musical "Rent."
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"It's a universal story that's about family and belonging. ... Whether you're from Washington state or Washington Heights, I think everyone can relate to it," said Olga Merediz, who is reprising her beloved role as "Abuela Claudia," which she originated on the Broadway version of "In The Heights."
Anthony Ramos is starring in the film as "Usnavi," a bodega owner, after recently appearing in the Oscar-winning film “A Star Is Born” and originating the roles of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton for Miranda’s other hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton.”
Ramos said he still remembers the day he saw "In The Heights" on Broadway, about a decade ago, because he didn't "only relate to these characters, but I knew them."
"His dreams are so big that he's scared of them, and I said, I can relate to that guy," said Ramos of his character "Usnavi."
Alongside Ramos, Mexican actress Melissa Barrera, Bronx-born Dominican singer Leslie Grace and actor Corey Hawkins — known for his TV roles in “The Walking Dead” and “24: Legacy” and for playing Dr. Dre in the 2015 film “Straight Outta Compton” — are part of the main cast Miranda constantly describes as "the dream team."
Barrera, known for her starring role in "Vida," credits both Miranda and Chu for the cast's undeniable chemistry.
"We all automatically connected," said Barrera, who plays Vanessa, a girl dreaming of becoming a fashion designer and Usnavi's love interest. "But it all trickles down from the top. When you have people like Lin and Jon at the top — from the audition process, sitting behind the desk and receiving with open arms and open hearts — you know from that moment, even from the moment I stepped into this audition, I knew that this was going to be something special."
Latinos are big box office drivers and accounted for 23 percent of all movie tickets sold in 2017, even though they make up 18 percent of the U.S. population. according to the Motion Picture Association of America. And yet, Latino actors represent three percent of all lead or co-lead roles among the top-performing movies from the last 12 years, according to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California.
But after the record-setting box office successes of “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Black Panther” — both with a majority Asian and black cast, respectively — Chu said "In The Heights" is poised to bring its moment to another underrepresented community: Latinos.
"I experienced this with 'Crazy Rich Asians' and what I learned is that the best thing we can do is to make an honest movie, an entertaining movie. But, we didn't make a movement on 'Crazy Rich Asians,' the people made the movement," said Chu. "Never underestimate the power of planting a seed. I believe that this movie is an amazingly beautiful movie that will change a lot of lives."
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