We’ve been waiting months for the long-awaited trailer for In The Heights, the first screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical and it’s finally here! But unlike most film trailers these days, which are normally released on the internet, Miranda understood the importance of having it shown in the actual neighborhood that inspired it all — Washington Heights. Last night’s trailer premiere took place at 809 Restaurant on Dyckman Street and was a party filled with proud Latinxs — many who grew up in the area. Even Dominican artist Tony Peralta was in the house! Everything that we love about the heights was there from a pop-up bodega, a pirogua vendor, a bar offering cocktails like coquito and sangria, and light bites that played an ode to our favorite Latin dishes like empanadas and sancocho. The movie’s cast and crew were all there, including Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Dascha Polanco, Stephanie Beatriz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Olga Merediz, Jimmy Smits, Director Jon Chu and Miranda himself. Did I mention it was hosted by Dominican-Puerto Rican comedian Aida Rodriguez who did a phenomenal job hyping the crowd? The emotional affair highlighted not just the importance of seeing ourselves reflected in a mainstream film but the deep sense of community we have as Latinx.
Any Latinx person who grew up in a Latinx neighborhood, whether it be in Latin America or in the states — like Washing Heights in NYC — recognizes the strong sense of community we tend to have with each other. For us, community is a sense of belonging, unity, acceptance, as well as, a deep willingness to have each other’s back — no matter what. Our vecinos become our family, the kids on our block are like own our kids, the abuelita of the neighborhood is essentially everyone’s abuelita and she’ll make sure she spoils you with a warm meal and life consejos. The bodega guy on the corner is practically everyone’s tio, and your peluquera is basically your therapist. This is all accurately captured in the new trailer. Despite whatever the characters are going through, whether it be related to their futures, their careers, their family conflicts, or even their financial situations, you can still tell that they all feel comfortable, safe, and welcomed in their community. Miranda did a great job at translating that joy we feel when we’re together to the big screen.
Even the cast members themselves expressed how they very much felt like they were working among family. Ramos, who plays the character Usnavi — the role Miranda had in the original Broadway play — shared how watching In The Heights when he was college was the inspiration he needed to not quit acting. Polanco got emotional and even shed some tears talking about how much it meant to her taking on the role of Cuca, one of the salon girls. While Barrera, who plays Usnavi’s love interest Vanessa, shared how she had seen the Broadway show at least 15 times.
Seconds after the trailer was played, you could feel the immediate excitement from the crowd. It showed us just enough to tell that this movie is going to be a major deal for the Latinx community, who has been largely impacted by today’s current political climate and the Trump administration’s mission to make us feel insignificant and invaluable. In fact, at one point an emotional Polanco went on to talk about how the film does a great job of letting the world know that we are more than enough. Everything from the character’s storylines, to the songs sung — which originated from the play — to the wonderfully choreographed dance moves that ranges from street style, salsa, merengue, bachata, hip-hop — you name it, to the bright colors, the kids joyfully playing on the block, folks chilling on their fire escapes, and Latin American banderas being proudly flung everywhere, you can instantly feel the vibrancy and energy of our community.
It was so refreshing to see Latinx actors playing leads roles and those roles for once not feeding into negative stereotypes. Instead, they showcase how multi-dimensional we are as people. We can grow up in an area like Washington Heights, be proud of our roots and where our parents came from, speak Spanglish, speak slang, listen to hip-hop while also enjoying Broadway musicals, kick it with our friends on the block and still be philosophical, articulate, and highly driven individuals. We know this about ourselves. But it’s about time the rest of the world caught up and understood that and this film definitely gives folks an opportunity to tune into that.
I found myself loudly cheering at certain moments and even teared at the very end of the trailer. Many in the audience had a very similar reaction. There was this understanding among all of us that this film is definitely going to be something special. It’s not just a film — it’s a movement. It’s an important message to the rest of the world that our stories matter and that’s something worth getting excited about. But while I’m absolutely ecstatic about this production and thrilled to see such a large Latinx cast, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of diversity of skin tones actually represented in the cast. Anyone who grew up in NYC knows that Washington Heights has been and still is, a predominately Dominican neighborhood that deeply varies in skin tones from fair to deep ebony — with most folks being some shade of brown. While there are a few Afro-Latinas in the cast including Leslie Grace, Dasha Polanco (both of whom are Dominican) and Daphne Rubin-Vega, it would have been nice to see more. In fact, it would have been amazing to see an Afro-Latina cast as Vanessa. That’s not to say Barrera (who is Mexican) didn’t do an amazing job, but in a world where roles for Afro-Latinas, especially with brown skin and naturally curly hair, are still hard to come by, this in many ways just felt like a missed opportunity. There’s really no arguing that.
With that all said, I’m still incredibly enthusiastic about the film and highly suggest that every Latinx person out there get the word out about it. Go see it, support it, tell your family and friends about it, and let the world know how important it is for us to have movies that actually represent us in a positive way continue to get created. This is our moment. This is our time to finally shine and be seen!
Check out the full trailer below!