Every reaction to a work of art is always linked to the moment we see it. How it came into being in the first place, and what the world is like when we see it, is important. So when a movie first hits theaters, it’s ridiculous to pretend that it can be evaluated from some objective, context-neutral point of view. With the sensational, spectacularly revealing, In the Heights and perfectly toned screen adaptation of In the Heights, I wouldn’t even try.
One of the first major films to be delayed outside of its 2020 DST, the long-awaited release of In the Heights will always be tied to the first world-altering pandemic of the 21st century. The musical’s creator and composer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, briefly campaigned for the film to bypass theaters and debut on streaming platforms, thinking that it could be, in essence, a moral boost for audiences trapped at home. . But ultimately he did not win.
He now he says it was probably for the best. Rather than solely infiltrating people’s televisions, In the Heights is exploding in theaters reopening and on HBO Max at the same time, another pandemic-era innovation at Warner Bros. ‘part, and unless my sense arachnid has become unstable over the last year, I think it’s about to be a big hit.
The musical on which the film is based opened on Broadway in March 2008, in the final months of George W. Bush’s presidency; closed during the Obama administration; the film’s landing in theaters after Trump. For some works, that wouldn’t mean much. For In the Heights, it does.
In the Heights is a story of dreamers (and, in the film version, DREAMers), a predominantly Latino community in the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan. It’s set during a very hot summer when a power outage occurs and the community begins to lose faith in those dreams.
Until recently, a movie like this would have been a big gamble for a major Hollywood studio, largely because the finished movie obviously doesn’t have “profitable” stars in the lead roles, which for most of Hollywood history it has meant white stars, or at least stars that movie executives think white audiences will recognize. Even a few years ago, Universal, who had originally opted for the project but eventually abandoned it, wanted Shakira or Jennifer Lopez for a lead role. Never mind that the Broadway show won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Broadway is one thing; Hollywood is a completely different world.
The film languished in development hell at Universal, so Miranda grabbed a biography of Alexander Hamilton at an airport and the story moved again. Hamilton became a sensation by joining a broader movement of pop culture phenomena like Black Panther and Get Out, which shattered the notion that only stories about white people were “universal.” In early 2017, once Hamilton was a hit, the Weinstein Company signed on to bring In the Heights to the big screen.