In the Heights is more than a celebration of Latin culture; it’s an honest representation of Latinos in the U.S. who represent a culturally, demographically and geographically diverse group.
“You see the breadth of our culture and the full spectrum of Latinidad and not just one scope of it,” Leslie Grace, who plays Nina in the film directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), tells Billboard.
In the Heights, an adaptation of the Broadway show that ran from 2008-11, was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda in 1999 and now hits theaters and HBO Max on June 11. “It was, in many ways, an attempt to write what I saw was missing, both in terms of representation and in terms of stories about [Latinos] in popular culture,” Miranda previously told Billboard.
Ahead of the film’s release, Billboard caught up with Grace and actress Melissa Barrera, who plays Vanessa, to talk all things In the Heights. From challenging musical numbers to how their characters inspired their personal growth and the importance of true representation in the film.
“It helps to see not the extremes of the spectrum but the middle of the spectrum which is where most of us live in,” says Barrera. “We’re not like the super wealthy and we’re not like the people have to resort to lifestyles of drug and gangs, which is what we usually see of us. Getting to see their struggles, their frustrations, their dreams and their very specific experiences and how by supporting each other overcome those struggles, I think is a beautiful thing.”
About what her character Nina taught her, Grace says, “Nina helped me contextualize a lot of my own experience as a first-generation Latina-Americana … Now I’ve learned so much about the mix of all cultures that I am, that my family is and our roots. Through Nina and other characters, we were all able to discover different pieces of ourselves that we hadn’t fully processed. That’s such a gift.”
Watch our interview with Grace and Barrera above.