Jon M. Chu speaks about why he wanted to adapt IntheHeights for the big screen, the challenges in doing so, the criticism of the lack of Afro Latino actors in the film — and why it’s important to have these conversations
The director also discusses why he wanted to adapt the musical for the big screen and the challenges in doing so.
Chu spoke toabout why he wanted to adaptIn the Heightsfor the big screen, the challenges in doing so, the criticism of the lack of Afro Latino actors in the film — and why it’s important to have these conversations.What drew you to make a movie adaptation of the musical?
I saw it when I was making my first movie,Step Up 2: The Streets, and it immediately spoke to my family and my community story, even though I’m not Latino and I’m not from New York City. Lin has an amazing way of translating human-to-human experiences. And I felt it. I have my
abuela— myboo boo— and I have my pressures that my parents give me. As Asian Americans, we had all different approaches to what it means to be Asian American. But I never thought I would actually be able to make the movie. When I was approached about it by [producer] Scott Sanders — I didn’t know Lin at the time — what I liked about it was that it wasn’t a simple translation to a movie. It wasn’t a direct one-to-one. That gave us a lot of freedom to be able to craft a story and find the nuggets and piece it together. And credit to Quiara, she was the key to all of this. Lin and Quiara really understood both worlds and could merge the two. And we became very close during that time as we developed it, and we got to speak freely of our experiences. That’s an amazing way to make a movie. headtopics.com
You said yourself you are not Latino and didn’t grow up in Washington Heights. What steps did you take to learn about the culture?I had Lin and Quiara, who still live in Washington Heights, to be my guide for the specifics, because I know how important all that is — the food, the traditions, how you sit at a table, who sits where at a table. That’s why I knew it could be a story that would transcend its specificity because I already related to it, and I think it’s a movie that celebrates working people and people who take care of each other. Our eight-minute opening number is about the bodega owner that you pass by every day. It’s about the piragua guy that you don’t pay attention to. And these people have hopes and dreams … and let’s put that on the pedestal. We got to do that on the big screen with a big studio, like Warner Bros., to back that. I feel like we didn’t fully get to celebrate how amazing the accomplishment of making a movie with an all-Latinx cast in a musical backed by a giant studio was, whereas Latinx characters usually only get 4.6 percent of the dialogue in a movie — that’s crazy to me. And it was about joy. No guns, no fighting, no drugs, no enemies.
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