In The Heights: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s latest film highlights the struggles and joys of the Latino community
“In the Heights, it gets more expensive every day.”
That’s the message from the fictional residents of the real community of Washington Heights in New York – the focus of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s latest release.
Already synonymous with the record-breaking Hamilton (which is about to hit Broadway and West End stages again), Miranda’s first musical, the Tony-winning In The Heights, highlights the struggles – and joys – of living in this mostly Latino community in the Big Apple.
It first ran on Broadway in 2008 – but now 13 years on, the unique issues that community faces remain the same – a reflection on society in the real world.
In just two hours and 20 minutes, we hear about undocumented immigrants, ICE (Immigration Compliance and Enforcement) raids, racism, gentrification and poverty in this diverse neighbourhood – as well as the joy and excitement of a community that is talked about so little in mainstream cinema.
And it wouldn’t be a Lin-Manuel Miranda musical without his rap numbers, comic relief, big dance breaks and catchy pop tunes.
“It’s never a bad time to remind people of our humanity,” Miranda, who grew up in the real Washington Heights, told Sky News, when asked why now was a good time to bring this musical to the big screen.
He added: “It’s always going to be relevant.
“There’s such a meagre representation of Latinos in a positive light in mainstream media that it’s always going to feel like now is the perfect time because it’s always overdue.
“We filmed this in the summer of 2019 and the poignancy and power of seeing people in community together, like singing and hugging each other and kissing, dancing in the streets is the power of what we can do together, I think really radiates off the screen, and as the kids say, ‘it hits different’ now than it may have at an earlier time.”
Miranda is one of the most in-demand people in showbiz – hot off the heels of his record and ground-breaking musical Hamilton, he has penned songs, acted in movies and voice characters for a number of projects.
And it doesn’t stop there – he is making his directorial debut soon with Netflix’s Tick, Tick… Boom and he’s on board for the live-action remake for The Little Mermaid.
In The Heights, which has a cast entirely made up of Latino performers and was co-written with Quiara Alegría Hudes, is centred around Usnavi (named after the time his father spotted a US Navy ship sailing by their home country of the Dominican Republic), who dreams of ditching his bodega (or corner shop to us Britons) and flying back to the Caribbean.
He’s played by Anthony Ramos, who UK fans might know, again, from Hamilton, where he played John Laurens and Philip Hamilton.
“Usnavi is a guy that… cares about his community,” he told Sky News.
“He takes care of his cousin, he takes care of, she’s not really his grandmother, but the matriarch of the block, if you will, and of the community.
“Both his parents passed away, he inherited a business that he didn’t ask for, but he does it with as much grace as possible.”
He adds that the character is relatable to everyone, saying: “Who hasn’t gone through that? Where you have days with some good, some not so good. It’s just it’s just a story about community and people in love, and family and music and culture.”
Ramos describes his character as the “invisible thread” that runs through the film as we meet the residents of Washington Heights trying to get through their lives – whether it’s the gossip girls from the salon, his cousin Sonny dealing with his immigration status or Abuela Claudia, who just wants to look after the block.
Sonny, Usnavi’s cousin and assistant in his bodega, is an undocumented citizen – a story that has grown in prominence over the last decade or so in the US due to fierce debates around border crossings – with an estimated 10 million people living in the country without the paperwork.
However, Gregory Diaz III, who plays Sonny, told Sky News that despite the problems sprouting from his character’s immigration status, he wanted to portray the good in his life.
He said: “Not wanting (his immigration status) to be something that defines him or something that holds him down – it’s something that both Sonny and I together want to elevate and really push forward those positive messages.”
And he gets his chance on screen, delivering a powerful rap during musical number 96,000, saying that if he won the lottery, he’d invest in education and technology, adding: “Politicians be hatin’, racism in this nation’s gone from latent to blatant, I’ll cash my ticket and picket, invest in protest, never lose my focus ’til the city takes notice.”
Elsewhere in the film, characters Vanessa and Nina also reflect on their experiences of living in Washington Heights – with both having to deal with racism at some point in the film.
Nina is the first of her family, and everyone she knows, to go to university (at Stanford none the less) with her family sacrificing the business to help her – but she drops out amid fears she is racially profiled by those around her, sharing a story about how she was wrongfully accused of stealing from her roommate on her first day.
Her father, Kevin, who is played by West Wing and Star Wars actor Jimmy Smits, secretly sells his cab company to a wealthy developer (who is slowly taking over the whole block, pricing out the local community) to get her back in – but it is Sonny’s story that gives her the drive to go back to California.
Vanessa dreams of being a fashion designer and has saved a deposit (in cash) for an apartment in Downtown Manhattan where she can work from – however when she goes to hand over the money, she’s told her credit isn’t good enough, despite having cash and rent upfront, before a seemingly middle-class white couple is welcomed into the property instead.
Melissa Barrera, a Mexican music and TV star, who plays Vanessa, told Sky News: “I think it’s a reflection of how a lot of things have not changed in a really long time and how certain communities continue to feel ostracised, especially in countries where they’re minorities.
“I think it’s about time to see their stories told in a positive light and to honour and acknowledge the contributions that communities like these have.”
Leslie Grace, who plays Nina, added: “I think it does reflect that on lots of things we still have a lot of work to do… but it also is aspirational in the sense that we can do it.”
Completing the ensemble we have:
• The salon girls, who share gossip about the Heights in their beauty parlour (Brooklyn 99 fans will spot Stephanie Beatriz ditching the no-nonsense, gruff-voiced attitude of cop Rosa, for the excitable and bouncy hairdresser Carla).
• Benny, played by Walking Dead actor Corey Hawkins, the film’s only black character who works for Nina’s dad and is Usnavi’s best friend, dreams of going to business school. He is worried about the Heights becoming too expensive for the long-standing community there.
• Abuela Claudia, the community matriarch played by Olga Merediz, who performs an emotional number on how her family came from Cuba, lived in relative poverty and didn’t stop working until her parents passed away.
Merediz, who also originated the role of Abuela Claudia on Broadway in 2008, told Sky News: “I want everybody to see us and to see that we are just like everyone else.
“We have dreams like everyone else. We are focused on family, and that we have our nannies or our grandmothers, the rocks of the of the family, the community, that we are hardworking, that we’re joyous, that we’re passionate.“
The person bringing this unique film together is director Jon M Chu, who is perhaps best known as the man behind Crazy Rich Asians.
He told Sky News that the movie shows how people deal with the issues presented to them, saying that “the world is changing and we cannot fight it”.
Chu added: “I’m not from Washington Heights and I’m not Latino, and yet it spoke to me so personally about what it feels like to be raised by your family – not by just your parents or by your aunts and your uncles – by your grandparents and the expectations they put on you and how that can be hard to deal with and finding your own path.”
But amid the political and emotional messaging, and the struggles in the community – the film is bursting full of singing, rapping and dancing.
At its heart, it is a movie musical with big ensemble numbers (96,000, shot at a swimming pool, is already a fan favourite, as is the colourful block-carnival scene), exciting dance breaks and impressive visuals – something which is sure to make it one of the summer’s biggest films.
Miranda sums it up, telling Sky News: “There’s a really specific kind of weightless goose-bumps feeling that only musicals give me. I remember feeling it for the first time in the movies when I saw the Under The Sea number in The Little Mermaid… just feeling like, ‘oh my God, this is a musical number under water!’
“I’ll never forget the feeling of being a little lighter than air walking out of that theatre – I hope people leave our movie with that same feeling.”
In The Heights is out in cinemas across the UK on 18 June, and tickets for Hamilton in the West End are on sale now.
Eurovision: Former Sex Pistols’ frontman John Lydon fails to win place representing Ireland
Former Sex Pistols’ frontman John Lydon has failed in his bid to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest.
His band Public Image Ltd (PiL), the post-punk band formed by Lydon following the break-up of the Sex Pistols, finished fourth out of six acts in Ireland’s Eurosong competition to select its entry to this year’s contest.
They were beaten by rock band Wild Youth’s song We Are One who will compete at the contest in Liverpool in May.
The result was decided in three parts – a public vote, a national jury and an international jury.
PiL’s entry was an emotional ballad called Hawaii, which he described as a love letter to his wife Nora, who is living with Alzheimer’s disease.
In the song, Lydon, formerly known as Johnny Rotten, reflects on their happiest moments over their 40-year marriage including their time in Hawaii.
Before the contest, he said: “It means the world to me, this is our last few years of coherence together. And I miss her like mad.
“I miss my missus, if you keep voting for me I’m going to miss her even more.”
He said he was still “terrified of mugging it up, getting it wrong, letting people down – mostly letting Nora down”.
He spoke fondly of watching Eurovision as a child, saying: “This is something that I watched when I was young with my parents. I remember Johnny Logan, I remember Cliff Richard, I remember Sandy Shaw.
“It’s as good as any other way of listening to music, I don’t have any prejudices about things like that.”
He added that he chose Ireland “because I’m as much Irish as anybody else by blood”.
PiL was formed in the late 1970s and has scored five UK top 20 albums.
The band is also planning to release a new album in 2023 – their first since 2015.
The UK is yet to announce details of potential entrants to Eurovision.
Julian Sands: ‘Intermittent’ aerial searches to continue after bad weather hampered earlier efforts
Aerial patrols are still being carried out “intermittently” in the search for missing British actor Julian Sands who went missing three weeks ago in California.
Normally, similar searches would be downgraded after 10 days, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said.
However, because bad weather has so far hampered efforts, it has been decided to extend the search period.
“Our Aviation Division continues to patrol that area, intermittently, in search of Mr Sands,” a spokesman said.
“Typically, we search for 10 days before downgrading to a passive search. In this case, with the weather precluding a continuous search, we extended those plans.
“While weather and mountain conditions continue to be an issue, we will resume ground searches once weather conditions permit and as the snow melts.”
Sands, 65, was reported missing on 13 January after he failed to return from a hike in the Mount Baldy region of the San Gabriel mountains.
Numerous searches for the actor have since been undertaken on foot and by air by both local and state-level agencies.
Authorities have previously used a Recco device, which is able to detect electronics and credit cards, in the hope of establishing a more exact area in which to focus search efforts.
Last weekend, Sand’s hiking partner and friend Kevin Ryan said it was obvious “something has gone wrong” but that the actor’s advanced experience and skill would “hopefully” see his safe return.
Fashion designer Paco Rabanne – known for his flamboyant Space Age designs – dies aged 88
Paco Rabanne, the Spanish-born designer, has died at the age of 88 in Portsall, Brittany.
The death of Francisco Rabaneda y Cuervo – Rabanne’s birth name – was confirmed by a spokesperson for Spanish group Puig, which controls the Paco Rabanne label he exited two decades ago.
He founded his namesake brand in1966, and while it is now best-known for is aftershaves and perfumes, it was his Space Age designs in the 1960s, that first brought him to the attention of many.
A statement shared on the fashion house’s official Instagram account said: “The House of Paco Rabanne wishes to honour our visionary designer and founder who passed away today at the age of 88.
“Among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century, his legacy will remain a constant source of inspiration.
“We are grateful to Monsieur Rabanne for establishing our avant-garde heritage and defining a future of limitless possibilities.”
Dubbed an “enfant terrible” in his early years, he helped upset the status quo of the Paris fashion scene, alongside fellow French designers Pierre Cardin and Andre Courreges.
His flamboyant designs frequently used unconventional material such as metal, paper, and plastic, with his first collection aptly titled: “Manifesto: 12 unwearable dresses in contemporary materials”.
Presented by barefoot models on a catwalk in a luxury Paris hotel, the collection included a chain mail-inspired silver minidress made of aluminium plates, which was worn over a flesh-coloured bodysuit.
Baroness Helen Bachofen von Echt went on to wear the dress to a party in New York where she danced with Frank Sinatra, according to the V&A museum.
Embracing cutting edge materials and modern ways of working, he used plyers rather than a needle and thread to create the craft outfits, which made from strips of plastic linked with metal rings.
The collection – which simultaneously looked both futuristic and medieval – has gone on to inspire numerous contemporary designers.
He famously created the green costume worn by Jane Fonda in the 1968 cult-classic science-fiction film Barbarella, with numerous celebrities including Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Blackpink all going on to wear his clothes.
Commenting on the influential 1966 show, president of Puig’s beauty and fashion division Jose Manuel Albesa said: “Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women (to) clamour for dresses made of plastic and metal.”
Rabanne teamed up with Spain’s Puig family in the late 1960s, launching his collection of perfumes and scents, which would go on to serve as a springboard for the company’s international expansion and vast commercial success.
His debut fragrance, Calandre, is still available today, and his Lady Million Eau de Parfum – presented in a distinctive bottle in the shape of a gold ingot – remains a best-seller.
Born in 1934 in the Basque Country, in the western Pyrenees, he escaped the Spanish Civil War by fleeing to France at the age of five alongside his mother, who was a head seamstress at Balenciaga.
He initially studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, before beginning his fashion career in the early 1960s.
He started his career sketching high end handbags and shoes, before branching into fashion and jewellery, selling his large plastic accessories and buttons to to couture houses.
Reflective of the mid-1960s cultural climate, his garments used post-war industrial materials – creating a trademark chunky and bold look. His architectural background also shone out in much of his work.
After a three-decade long career, Rabanne stepped back from the design house in 1999.
In 2010, the designer was made an Officier de la Legion d’Honneur in France, the country’s highest civilian award.
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