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U.S. Latinos finally get their turn with Lin-Manuel Miranda movie ‘In the Heights’

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June 8, 2021

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Lin-Manuel Miranda is looking forward to the day when a movie starring a U.S. Latino cast, featuring characters who aren’t stereotyped as maids or gardeners, is a regular fixture in cinemas.

Until then, he is hoping musical “In The Heights” changes the conversation in Hollywood about the wider appeal of such movies, just as “Crazy Rich Asians” did in 2018.

“The hope for me is that in five years time, people will go, ‘Why was ‘In the Heights’ such a big deal? We have 10 Latino movies every year now,’” said Miranda.

“To be quaint would be a dream come true. No one movie can encompass the sheer tonnage of stories we have to offer,” said Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent and is the creator of hit musical “Hamilton.”

Latinos in the United States go to the movies more than Blacks and Asian Americans, according to a 2018 report by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Latinos make up around 18% of the U.S. population. But a 2019 study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California found that just 3% of the top-grossing movies from 2007-2018 had Latinos as lead or co-lead actors.

Miranda originally wrote “In the Heights” about the vibrant multi-racial community in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood as a stage musical, before “Hamilton,” which reframes the story of America’s founding fathers through the perspective of Blacks and Latino immigrants.

Shot on the streets of Washington Heights, with huge dance numbers and featuring a cast of rising talent like Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera, “In the Heights” took 13 years to get to the big screen.

Directed by Jon M. Chu, with some dialogue in both Spanish and English and storylines about the struggle to succeed in the United States and the pull of the homeland, it has won rave reviews.

Variety called it a “come-one-come-all block party in honor of the Latino immigrant experience.”

“In the Heights” had its first public screening at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival (LALIFF) last week, which was the first to focus on Latin movies when it was launched 20 years ago.

It’s been an uphill battle for festival co-founder Edward James Olmos, known for his roles in “Miami Vice” and “Stand and Deliver.”

“This last Oscars – I couldn’t even watch it,” said Olmos. “I was destroyed by the fact that if it wasn’t for Rita Moreno, we would have had no representation whatsoever.”

Moreno, 89, who after 60 years remains the only Latin American actress to win an acting Oscar (for “West Side Story”), presented the Academy Award for best picture at the April ceremony. A documentary about Moreno is one of more than 50 offerings at the LALIFF festival that includes works from Brazil, Cuba and Peru.

Olmos says it’s a sign of change that he is getting more calls these days to pitch ideas for movies and TV shows than he has in recent years. But he added:

“I don’t think it’s really ever going to change until we do what (Black filmmaker) Tyler Perry did, which was to create his own studio … This is what we have to do as Latinx people. I hope to see that in my lifetime.”

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)