'In the Heights': AAPI Heritage Month Must-See Movies

We're celebrating the upcoming movie adaptation of Broadway's "In the Heights," directed by AAPI hero (and "Crazy Rich Asians" filmmaker) Jon M. Chu.

Chuck Walton

By Chuck Walton

In the Heights AAPI Heritage Month

© Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

The film is the long-anticipated adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway hit "In the Heights." AAPI filmmaker and "Crazy Rich Asians" director Jon M. Chu helms this big screen celebration of community.

The Movie

After many years in development, the motion picture version of "In the Heights" reaches cinemas on June 11, 2021. It's based on the Tony Award-winning play by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes.

The story involves a bodega owner in Washington Heights, New York, and his community. The primarily Dominican neighborhood endures another hot summer. Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) saves money from his bodega, and dreams of relocating to the Dominican Republic. He also dreams of Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), his friend who works at a nearby salon.

© Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

© Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

One day, Nina (Leslie Grace) returns home from her first year at Stanford. Her dad Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits) is proud she made it out of the Heights. But he soon learns Nina dropped out because she had to work two jobs to pay her tuition, and fell behind in her grades.

Frustrated Kevin also learns of her relationship with Benny (Corey Hawkins), a young Black man and Usnavi's best friend.

Like the play, the film is a colorful, energetic musical that is both gritty and hopeful. Ultimately, it is optimistic about its original characters. It believes in where they're headed. And it believes in the America they live in - a melting pot that's hot, spicy, and full of flavor.

The AAPI Connection

The cast and story have a distinct Latin feel. However, "In the Heights" is also directed by AAPI legend Jon M. Chu, and he brings his unique energy to the project. The director behind "Crazy Rich Asians" and "Step Up 2: The Streets" knows how to turn on the glitz...and the music.

Half-Taiwanese and half-Chinese, Chu is a great advocate for representation. He's also a huge movie buff. Daughter Willow is named after the 1988 movie "Willow." His son, born during the shooting of "In the Heights," is named Jonathan Heights Chu.

©Paramount Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

©Paramount Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Why You Should See It

With "In the Heights," AAPI director Jon M. Chu successfully collaborates with a diverse group of collaborators. The end result has received nearly unanimous critical praise. The film currently stands at 98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

"It's one of the liveliest and most moving films you're likely to see this year."

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According to Siddhand Adlakha at IGN Movies, "it's one of the liveliest and most moving films you're likely to see this year."

From Anna Menta at Decider: "It's more than just a movie. It's more than just a musical. It's an event."

So, yes, see it. On the biggest screen possible. With as many of your family and friends as you can gather. It is that movie.

Did You Know

In the original Broadway run, Lin-Manuel Miranda was also the star. For his turn as Usnavi de la Vega, he won a Tony Award. Miranda considered taking on the role for the movie, but ultimately decided he's too old for the part. Instead, he plays Piraguero, the Piraguay Guy. The role of Usnavi now goes to Anthony Ramos, who co-starred on Broadway in Miranda's "Hamilton."

 © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

© Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

Chuck Walton

Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.

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