In the Heights director, Jon M. Chu is a trailblazer in the realm of bringing diverse stories with diverse perspectives.
Initially moving the masses from a Broadway stage the project now looks to hit the silver screen where visibility and representation for specific demographics are still struggling to make it to the mainstream.
The diversity of demographics in thought and stories was discussed at length over the last decade. Still, diversity is needed among all industries in the U.S.
Additionally, Hollywood as a large image-maker for our society at times, visibly, needs it the most.
The argument for a diverse Broadway crowd
The reason why In the Heights is so important lies in the adoration American society has for plays and musicals. Society sees on-stage performances as a “higher form of art” and are often mostly enjoyed by wealthier audiences.
These audiences are also regularly overwhelmingly white. But getting more diverse audiences to enjoy musicals could be made easier by representing those audiences on stage.
If you see yourself within media you’re more likely to enjoy it. In the Heights as a film with representation for Black and Brown communities in NYC should do just that.
According to the annual Hollywood Diversity report, which looks at diversity in front of and behind the camera, “America’s increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse film and television content,” and that “diversity is essential for Hollywood’s bottom line.”
Jon M. Chu’s commitment to representation on screen
Film makers of color are of low stats year after year in Hollywood. As a child, Jon M. Chu created his first edited film.
A mashup of home videos, that made his family cry, not at the sheer skill of the images, but at the sense of belonging they felt seeing themselves as a family depicted in the medium of all-Americanness.
Years later Crazy Rich Asians would have the same effect on audiences.
Jon M. Chu explained in his 2019 Ted Talk how Crazy Rich Asians came to be despite the lack of stats on whether it would succeed. He emphasized that even though the market research was bleak, thanks to the infrastructure of Asian Americans in the media, the film had a chance.
Jon expressed that this infrastructure was,
“Not perfect, but the start of how we determine our own representation.”
Chu also emphasized that his entire career and path were a result of several kindnesses and love given to him along the way. From his parents’ support to the opportunities filmmakers gave him. But he also emphasizes his right to be there.
“I realized I was not just lucky to be here, but I had the right to be here – I earned the right to be here,” he says. “And to not just have a voice, but to have something to say. To tell my story with people who looked liked me and had a family like mine.”
He ends his Ted Talk with a call to spreading love and remembering to be kind to one another because that is how we all prosper.
His latest film In The Heights seeks to inspire this same joy, love and kindness through its story with help from Broadway legend Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Impact
Known for creating and starring in the culturally iconic Broadway musical “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda gives audiences a more accessible experience with In the Heights.
The film takes place in Washington Heights New York and follows characters from a largely Hispanic-American neighborhood.
According to the trailer, the neighborhood is disappearing and actor Anthony Ramos, (She’s Gotta Have It) as the film’s protagonist Usnavi explains to a group of children how he and others saved it.
In The Heights and in our hearts
In the Heights marries traditional musical styles with rap and hip-hop, similar to Hamilton. The format of the film makes it accessible to the audiences that want to see themselves on screen.
The cast includes Daphne Rubin-Vega (“Rent”), Corey Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton”), Stephanie Beatriz (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) and Jimmy Smits (“NYPD Blue”).
It’s pretty obvious now that audiences are hungry for films that represent all of America as well as the world at large. We’re far more colorful than what Hollywood and Broadway have been for decades.
Jon M. Chu’s commitment to bringing pride to minorities’ through contemporary and hopeful stories on the screen will undoubtedly influence a generation of filmmakers to come.