By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer
Director Jon M.Chu is no stranger to working on projects where there is a focus on cultural diversity. In 2018, he directed Crazy Rich Asians which was the first modern story with an all-Asian cast and an Asian American lead in 25 years. And now his project of adapting In The Heights into a feature film, a film with an all-Latin cast.
Chu describes his work on In The Heights as one which showcases characters born out of different types of diversity, who prides in community and self journeys.
“We knew we wanted to show as many colors, shades, shapes, sizes and ages in this film adaptation. One movie can’t represent all, but what we could do was to show as much of this diversity as we possibly could and show how the film is all about the importance of community and finding one’s path. The film’s motto is – let’s celebrate what we all have in common.”
In The Heights is a film that takes place in Washington Heights, New York City, and is based off the life of bodega owner Usnavi (played by Anthony Ramos) who sings about the life he wish he had and hopes to have as he saves every cent he earns. It is a film which celebrates culture, life and community. As a Broadway musical it was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first, and it is his love letter to his hometown of Washington Heights. Chu reflects on his experiences working with a legend like Lin-Manuel and how it was the culture tour he got of the area which inspired him to direct this film adaptation with passion.
“Firstly, Lin-Manuel is everything you think he is. He is giving, generous, loving and creative. Asides from being a creative genius, he loves giving and listening to people. I could see the sparkle in his eye when he talked about his life and I wanted to ensure I reflected all that in the film.”
A film like this, which shows what America actually looks like ( extremely diverse), is most important in this current challenging time. The movement for better Asian representation, diversity and visibility has been going on for decades, but it was re-invigorated with the release of films like Crazy Rich Asians. Chu discusses how keeping to this is his way of contributing to changing the narrative. He says, where a lot of progress has been made over the years, it is still progressing slow and it needs to move faster.
“This present time, is a very hard time for us Asian Americans but also for many communities who have and face racism. It is very difficult to pin point what we should do to change this, and really all we can do is do our bit and be consistent in what we do. Not all of us are activists, but we do need to speak out. My way of doing this is to contribute stories, which I will continue to do.”
“The way media represents people has a direct effect on how people live their lives and other’ perceptions of these people and communities. The more stories we put out there, the more we can change the culture of human beings. We need to be authentic and not just take scraps. It is time we scale up.”
“In The Heights” will have its public release on June 11 in theaters and will also be accessible to stream on HBO Max.
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