Early in the screen musical In the Heights, matriarch Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) describes the velvet gloves her mother purchased when she immigrated from Cuba to the Manhattan barrio Washington Heights. What some might see as an unnecessary extravagance for a family struggling to make ends meet, Abuela Claudia sees as a necessary remembrance.
“We had to assert our dignity in small ways,” she explains. “Little details to tell the world we are not invisible.”
The line serves as a thesis statement, not just for the many characters pursuing their sueñitos (“little dreams”) but for director Jon M. Chu’s approach to this adaptation of the Broadway musical by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. In the Heights tells an unabashedly earnest story about Latinx and Black New Yorkers struggling to improve their lives. Through the eyes of narrator Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), Washington Heights is an ecstatic space bursting with music and dancing.