In The Heights, the 2021 summer movie event has made a big splash in theaters and on streaming platform HBO Max after it's official release this week. The movie comes as an adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hude's 2008 musical of the same name.
The story follows the lives of those living in the Barrio of Washington Heights, where they must deal with love, loss, and a balancing act of big dreams and responsibilities.
As a Hispanic Latina who was born in Washington Heights, In the Heights has always been very personal to me, as I sat down to watch I realized that I had very elevated expectations, and after watching the film I can say: they DELIVERED, on most fronts.
In the Heights is not only beautiful visually, sporting a perfectly chosen color palette to get you enthralled, but also beautiful emotionally, bringing to life a tale of following your dreams- no matter how big they might be or how far they might take you. Leslie Grace as Nina is a match made in heaven, and the entire ensemble of barrio-goers celebrating their cultures will make you want to rewind and watch the whole thing over again.
Granted, there are some major factors in the film that differ from the original musical, the biggest being the topic of US Immigration policies introduced as a major theme throughout the story as well as the absence of Camila (Nina's mother) who played a significant role in the mediation of arguments between Nina and her father. Director Jon M. Chu touched up on this, saying the absence of Nina’s mother was to create a thicker bond between Usnavi and Nina, so though we’re sad the classic In The Heights character and her anger-ridden song “Enough” won't be making an appearance, at least we understand why. Though, there is one happy couple living it up in the Barrio, in the film Daniella and Carla are happily married and co-owners of the salon, No Me Diga!
This film serves as a huge foot in the right direction in terms of Hispanic and Latinx representation in film. According to the New York Times, in 2019 only 3% of films contained a Hispanic or Latinx lead. So after In the Heights here’s to hoping we’ll see more diverse stories take to the big screen.
In the Heights is a resonant film that does not deserve to go unwatched. In a film industry with so little Hispanic and Latinx representation, seeing people on screen that were proudly Latin was a beautiful experience. Watching "96,000" play out with a giant swimming pool dance number, reminded me of the summer block parties my neighborhood would have once summer rolled around (though our dancing was significantly less in sync and choreographed) with an open fire hydrant serving as a sprinkler and the chill of ice cold piraguas in our hands (Cherry flavored, of course). We'd dance as the music played and suddenly, we weren't just neighbors or friends who said pleasantries on the street anymore, we were family.
For me personally, the scene that takes the cake is the sequence of, "Carnaval Del Barrio". Watching the cast raise their flags high in joy and celebration was unbelievably empowering and made me remember how proud I am of my roots, something I wasn't always confident about growing up. I remember being teased at school for having family members who didn't speak perfect English, being teased for the food we ate, and being told I wasn't American, despite being born in New York. Rather than ignore them and keep my head held high, I let it dwindle my confidence and I stopped speaking Spanish entirely, embarrassed of who I was and where I came from. It wasn't until high school when I decided to take up Spanish again, and to this day I still don't know when to use Vosotros.
Thankfully, I have since learned to love my roots and block out the ignorance, raising my Dominican and Puerto Rican flags high.
Everyone is different with different experiences, likes, dislikes, loves, and losses. In The Heights shows us that those differences, are what makes us family.
Regardless of whether you've never eaten Piragua before, or if you eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, everyone has dreams and that is what In The Heights is truly about: having the courage to follow your dreams anywhere they may take you. No matter who you are or where you come from, you’re bound to find at least some of yourself in Washington Heights.
In theaters now and available for streaming on HBO MAX through July 11th.