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‘In the Heights’ and the Celebration of Homecoming: A Roundtable

In the Heights official movie poster.

In the Heights isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a beautiful one nevertheless, and it’s the celebration of homecoming, which can easily translate off-screen to anyone who’s ever felt out of place. As most well produced musicals, it’s an absolute thrill in a myriad of ways, and for the Latinx community, it’s telling stories that feel personal.

In the Heights is also a film that’s bringing to light necessary discourse about Afro-Latinx and Black erasure from prominent stories where they should have been front and center. The conversations are happening all over social spheres and (hopefully) inspiring people to see that inclusivity cannot be met by checking boxes, but by making changes from the ground up in Hollywood. Anyone with any kind of power in Hollywood should be consciously aware of this, and this includes journalists like us we are reviewing the film. It’s 2021, there can no longer be any excuses.

If you are reading this, I hope you are also going out of your way to find pieces by Latinx writers who’ve written about the film with their voices and through their experiences. I’ve also linked one above and both are lovely, so be sure to check them out.

As you all know by now if you’ve listened to our Hamilton podcast, you know that Morgan McNair and I both adore musical theatre and thus, taking the opportunity to fangirl over this film wasn’t something we could pass up even if it isn’t in podcast form.

In the Heights and the Overall Rating

What’s your overall opinion, rating, favorite thing about the film?
Morgan:  It’s hard for me to rate the movie! I was so excited to finally see one of my favorite musicals come to life on-screen, but I did have some criticisms. If we’re rating it out of 10,  I guess I would give it a 7 or 8.
Gissane:  It made me so unbelievably happy that I still don’t know what to do with myself because of it. . .but I think as someone who’s always loved musicals that’s always my first and immediate reaction. I’d only ever heard parts of the original Broadway soundtrack so I wasn’t too familiar with all the numbers, and naturally, it’s imperfect as a film, but I’d say probably an 8. My favorite thing about it is the overarching theme of home is not a place, it’s the people, which is a general favorite of mine that always feels super comforting.

What’s your favorite number and why?

Production still from In the Heights.
Source: Warner Brothers

Morgan: “Paciencia y Fe!” Everything about the scene was just beautiful. That final shot! It’s one of my favorite numbers from the stage production and seeing Olga Merediz reprise her role and perform it with just as much heart as she did on Broadway was amazing. Honorable mention to “The Club” and”Blackout” because those are two of my favorite tracks from the stage production and the movie!
Gissane:  I go back and forth between “Breathe” and “Home All Summer.” One because it feels super personal to me and my insecurities right now, and the other because it’s the one song that keeps getting stuck in my head, and I can’t take it off replay. Watch this change in a few months, but that’s what musicals often do, isn’t it? I just adore Leslie Grace’s voice!

In the Heights and Prior Expectations

Did the film meet your expectations?
Morgan: I enjoyed it a lot but I was a little conflicted. I love the music and I think Anthony Ramos did a great job as Usnavi. I’ve loved the musical for years so there’s no way I was going to flat out hate the movie, but I had issues with it. I was sad to see them exclude Camile (Nina’s mom) because “Enough” is such a good song!  I was also disappointed that “Hundreds of Stories” wasn’t included. The biggest issue I had with the movie was the erasure of Afro-Latinos from a story about Washington Heights. The lack of Black Latinos, specifically dark-skinned individuals, erases them from a story about their own community. They also made the choice to cut the plot about Kevin Rosario being anti-Black towards Benny and that being the reason he doesn’t approve of the relationship between Benny and Nina. That was a big part of the story in the play and it provided a valid critique of the colorism and anti-Black sentiments present in many Latinx communities.
Gissane: I couldn’t have said it better than Morgan above. My expectations like with any musical, is always heightened and I had read a few early reviews that praised it so it only amplified it. I don’t have any criticism towards what wasn’t included as I’m not as well versed in the original production to have noticed, but the erasure and colorism is something I’m glad we’re talking about now because change in Hollywood needs to start from the ground up. You can’t ignore racial erasure and colorism. There are one too many productions where darker skinned people are part of the ensemble and that’s not something that can be looked passed, especially when it doesn’t meet the reality behind the Washington Heights community and their personal stories. I didn’t know any of that stuff about Kevin Rosario until this moment and I’d like to know why that arc wasn’t included if it’s such a huge part of the production.

The Connections with Character Arcs

Production still from In the Heights.
Source: Warner Brothers

Was there a particular character and their story that you connected with?
Morgan: I can’t really say that there’s one particular character that I connect with. I feel like there are bits and pieces from different characters’ stories that I relate to. I can definitely relate to Nina struggling with feeling like she doesn’t belong, especially in college, since I went to college in a predominantly white area. But on a less serious note, I can relate to Vanessa wanting to move out of her mom’s house and finally get her own place! The struggle!
Gissane: Moving out is such a big mood. Lol. I think for me it’s definitely Nina primarily because when you’re the person with big dreams who feels like you’ve failed at those dreams, you don’t want to admit it or see the people who’ve believed in you. It’s such a fascinating arc to me, and I feel like it’s a struggle a lot of people have felt frequently in life, especially the last year.

Production still from In the Heights.
Source: Warner Brothers

What are some little details about the film you adore and why? 
Morgan:  I loved seeing members of the original Broadway cast on screen! I got so excited every time I saw one of them pop up on screen. Me texting you every time I saw one of them probably got annoying.
Gissane: I love this detail about you because it’s such an excellent thing to geek out about. I just love good choreography so I’m always utterly stunned by the dance numbers and how beautiful every single movement is. I can pick it apart for hours.

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