Melissa Harris-Perry: Back with you on The Takeaway, I'm Melissa Harris-Perry in for Tanzina Vega. This summer it's lights up on Washington Heights.
Actor: [music] [raps] That was Abuela, she's not really my "abuela"
But she practically raised me, this corner is her escuela.
Now, you're prob'ly thinkin:
"I'm up shit's creek!
I've never been north of Ninety-Sixth Street!"
Well, you must take the A Train
Even farther than Harlem to northern Manhattan and maintain
Melissa Harris-Perry: That's right. The much-anticipated In The Heights movie is finally hitting the big screen.
Actor: [music] [raps] I hope you're writing this down, I'm gonna test ya later.
I'm getting tested; times are tough on this bodega
Melissa Harris-Perry: Adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda's celebrated Broadway musical In the Heights, this is a love letter to New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood, chronicling the dreams and struggles, love and loss of different members of a tight-knit community, from Usnavi, a bodega owner played by actor Anthony Ramos, to Abuela Claudia, the neighborhood's matriarch played by Olga Merediz.
Actor: [music] [raps] Yo,
If I won the lotto tomorrow
Well, I know I wouldn't bother goin' on no spendin' spree
I pick a business school and pay the entrance fee!
Then maybe if you're lucky, you'll stay friends with me!
I'll be a businessman, richer than Nina's daddy!
Donald Trump and I on the links, and he's my caddy!
My money's makin' money, I'm goin' from po' to mo' dough!
Keep the bling, I want the brass ring, like Frodo!
Melissa Harris-Perry: In The Heights is not only expected to be a blockbuster at the box office; it's also drawing a lot of praise for its all-Latino cast and what that means for Latino representation in Hollywood.
For more on In The Heights, we're joined now by Sigal Ratner-Arias, Spanish Entertainment Editor at The Associated Press. Sigal, thanks so much for joining us.
Sigal Ratner-Arias: Hi, thank you for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I know for folks in New York, they're going to know the Washington Heights neighborhood, but can you tell me a little bit about what the Washington Heights neighborhood is, that's being celebrated in this incredible performance.
Sigal Ratner-Arias: In Washington Heights, once you see the movie, you'll understand, but it's a neighborhood filled with Latinos coming from many places, from Latin America that came to the United States and settled there, following their dreams, and this movie celebrates them.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I think, for me, part of what I love both about the neighborhood and about the film is that it goes into that complexity, that diversity of Latino identity and experience. Talk to me a little bit about who some of those key characters are.
Sigal Ratner-Arias: You have Usnavi, which you mentioned, he's the main character. He's a bodega owner who dreams to go back to the Dominican Republic where he's from to fulfill his father's wishes that they came to New York temporarily to work and make some money, to go back and they never did. Now their parents died already, and he's trying to get back and take back their little business that they own there. I don't know, there are so many characters. There's the Abuela, of course, that's the Abuela of everybody,
Melissa Harris-Perry: She is probably my most favorite character. Tell us a little bit about her.
Sigal Ratner-Arias: She's amazing. She represents the nurturing person that even if she's not the grandmother, blood-related grandmother of anybody in the story, she's the grandmother of everyone. She takes care of everyone. Everyone adores her, and she's this beautiful figure.
She has a beautiful scene in the movie that the producers initially didn't want because they were worried it was going to be like the Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins. It was going to be the scene that people take a few minutes to go to the bathroom or to look at their phones, but it's actually one of the most beautiful and meaningful scenes.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Absolutely. Now talk to me about the fact that this is an all-Latino cast. How rare is that for a a big-budget Hollywood film like this?
Sigal Ratner-Arias: It's super rare. You don't see those-- I've been covering the Oscars for over 15 years, and I covered the Latino part of the Oscars. There have been a few years where I don't have anything in particular or anything big to write about, and it's so sad. There are years that there's more but especially coming from Latin America or Spain, but not Hollywood produced, and certainly not at this level. This is something huge for the Latino community, and also this is something that represents us in a beautiful light.
We've seen many Latinos in Hollywood, here and there, but very stereotyped characters. They're playing the gangsters, they're playing the drug dealers, they're playing the nannies, but these shows real people in all their colors, nationalities, different dreams, different aspirations in life, real people, as we all are. We're here, and it's amazing that finally this is happening. I'm so excited.
Yesterday, I saw the movie at the Tribeca Film Festival on Pier 67, and I could see the George Washington Bridge from there, which is featured in the film. It was so beautiful and exciting. I cannot tell you. I was crying the whole time.
Melissa Harris-Perry: No, I can feel it. I can feel your enthusiasm and excitement about it. I think, that for me, is part of what does make this premiere so important, so relevant. I think I also have to say, for me, I love a good musical. I mean, I don't know, maybe I'm just a little bit goofy that way, but when you get a musical, there's something about that capacity to connect, and also the way that it remains memorable for so long.
Sigal Ratner-Arias: Definitely, definitely. I agree. It's so beautifully done by Jon Chu, I have to say. It was a good mix of two minority worlds coming together; the full Latino cast with a Latino story and an Asian director that's known for Crazy Rich Asians, who did an amazing job with this adaptation, I have to say. I'm very, very happy and excited for everyone to see it.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's talk about Crazy Rich Asians for a moment, because it does feel like both Crazy RichAsians and Black Panther were foundation laying, at least in the sense that they showed Hollywood, just how much audiences will flock to a cast that is not an all-white or predominantly white cast, and that shows people of color in these very, as you said, different and more fully human ways. Do you see that as having laid the framework and groundwork?
Sigal Ratner-Arias: Definitely. It's a very important part of the puzzle here. They definitely paved the way and many things had to happen that, and also during the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, everything helped to align all the stars for this finally to happen.
One thing that is incredible, and I don't know if you want us to talk about this later, but I have to mention it, is that Hispanics are the biggest minority in the United States with almost 60 million people. They represent the biggest part of the box office; 29% tickets sold are sold to Hispanics, yet on the screen, they only represent 4.5% for speaking or named characters, and only 3% of the lead character.
There's an imbalance that it's so outrageous, and it's been for years. When you see those characters, as I said before, they're very stereotypical. They don't really represent us. We don't feel represented by those characters, because it's not the Latinos telling their stories. It's white people writing with the little knowledge they may have, or with the stereotypes they may have in their mind of these characters. They portray us in such a bad light many times, not always, but usually, that this it's like the light at the end of the tunnel. I think this will change things.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Sigal Ratner-Arias is a Spanish Entertainment Editor at The Associated Press. Sigal, thank you so much for joining us today.
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