‘In the Heights’ Director Reflects on Casting Criticism, Wishes More People Saw Musical

Lead Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros Entertainment
Courtesy of Warner Bros Entertainment
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It’s been nearly six months since the musical In the Heights hit theaters. Now, filmmaker Jon M. Chu reflects on some of the surprises that came with the movie’s release, including a lukewarm performance at the box office and criticism that not enough Afro-Latine actors were represented in the film adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway play.

The latter, he said, led to some important conversations that he was open to listening to and participating in. “You can’t have a conversation about colors without a movie with people of color in it,” Chu recently told The Hollywood Reporter. “Nothing’s intentional, so you’re like, ‘All right, someone’s telling you they aren’t being seen.’ We’ve been those people before. So, how do you want to react when you say that to them? And we tried to act in that way – not to be defensive, not to cut the person who’s trying to express this to you, but instead to give room for that conversation.”

Chu said those conversations taught him that there needs to be more diverse storytellers in Hollywood so that “more things” can be revealed. “Of course, it was hard to hear, but at the same time, that’s what happens when you’re at the cutting edge of what we’re supposed to be doing,” Chu said. “The worst thing that it could do is stop us from doing more. The best thing it could do is illuminate that there’s more stuff for everyone to do in this.”

As for the film’s box-office numbers, Chu isn’t going to lie. He “wish[es] more people saw it.” He hoped it would be a “breakthrough moment for Latinx actors” in the same way Crazy Rich Asians was for Asian actors in 2018.

“We can’t control who shows up, but we can control the art that we make and what we’re trying to put on that screen, especially in a time when we’re resetting what stories should look like,” Chu said. “But then again, our cast did break open. Anthony Ramos is the lead of Transformers: [Rise of the Beasts]. I know that would have not happened without this movie. Leslie Grace is Batgirl. Corey Hawkins is in The Color Purple. You have Melissa Barrera in Scream 5. Stephanie Beatriz in Encanto. So much has come from this movie – people may have not been connecting the dots, but that is incredible.”

It looks like Miranda was right when he told Remezcla earlier this year that the stars of In the Heights could carry their own films. “Melissa [Barrera] is enough to greenlight a movie,” he said. “Leslie Grace is enough to greenlight a movie, and Dasha Polanco and Daphne Rubin-Vega and Stephanie Beatriz. These are all-stars. Making ourselves a part of the conversation – that’s the gig.”