At Plaza de las Americas in Washington Heights, fruit and vegetable retailers usually sell products until dusk. But on Wednesday, it was turned into a replica of every other block in the neighborhood. There was a mock bodega, decorated with three Dominican flags hanging from an awning, a faux fire hydrant and a plastic fruit stand. Throughout the set, a yellow blanket ran.
The reproduction served as the backdrop for the light fixtures for the premiere of “In the Heights,” the big screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hude’s Tony-winning Broadway show. The sunny carpet welcomed the cast and crew to the Upper Manhattan neighborhood, where it was filmed. The premiere, which also served as the opening night of the 20th Tribeca Festival, was held at United Palace, a majestic 91
As actors, producers and executives streamed down the yellow carpet, pausing with photos with photographers and interviews with the news media, the real Washington Heights swirled behind them. Waitresses at the Malecon, a Dominican restaurant across the street from the plaza, looked out the windows between serving heaps of rice, casserole chicken and beans, trying to figure out why crowds had formed in front of their restaurant on a sticky 90-degree day.
Eaters at El Conde Nuevo, another Dominican restaurant across the street, stood on the corner, trying to decipher the rumpus outside. And then Miranda arrived – wearing a light blue, long-sleeved chacabana, jeans and the same Nike Air Force 1s, often called Uptowns in the City, that he wore to the Broadway opening of “In the Heights” with his family, and all broke out in cheers.
Jorge Peguero, 71, was on his way home when he stopped and became a proud member of the crowd.
“I’ve lived here my whole life, and this is amazing,” said Peguero, a resident of Washington Heights since 1969. “It’s a big deal that Tribeca chose to represent the Dominican community, and it’s the first time ever we looks something like. ”
Miranda, who still lives in Washington Heights, had hoped to get the premiere of the film where it is set.
“All I ever wanted was for this neighborhood to be proud of itself and the way they are portrayed,” said Miranda, who was within walking distance of her home and his parents’ home. “I still walk around here with the headphones on, and everyone is fine, Lin-Manuel writes.”
“I feel safe here,” he added.
Many Washington Heights residents have not yet had their meeting with Miranda in the neighborhood. Eglis Suarez, 48, was hoping to change that.
“I want to see Lin,” she said. “We are so proud, this is progress for this community and for the city.”
Radiant and critically beloved, “In the Heights,” directed by Jon M. Chu, is a look at the shifts that are taking place between first- and second-generation immigrants. The elders hope to get out of the neighborhood they left home to, while their younger counterparts plan to stay in the neighborhood they call home. It’s a story that has happened a million times in the area, and one that Hudes, who also lives there, encountered daily during filming.
“This is not about a hero or a protagonist, it’s about what happens when a society holds hands together and life kind of pushes those hands apart,” said Hudes, who wore large hangers and a jumpsuit with a floral print. “It’s about these blocks and these living rooms where you go to school and do your homework or play bingo during a blackout, it’s all here.”
Washington Heights has been home to middle-class and working-class Dominicans since the 1960s. In the 1980s, the neighborhood, like many others in the city, was flooded with cocaine and crack, making it unsafe for the community. Those days are over now and some residents say it’s time to move on from a tale in countless movies and rap songs that no longer fit the neighborhood.
“I’m so proud of this movie,” said Sandra Marin Martinez, 67, a lifelong resident of Washington Heights. “Who would not be? At least there is no shooting. ”
“Everything dances, these are my people, I grew up dancing here,” she added, waiting for a glimpse of the cast entering the theater.
Yudelka Rodriguez, 51, was standing with her daughter waiting for the cast to arrive. She was thrilled to see her hood in the film and even represented.
“I’m so emotional,” Rodriguez said as she leaned into a metal gate. “This is the most beautiful thing to see that your barrio is involved in this; that’s the best feeling. ”
This feeling is something that Paula Weinstein, an organizer of the Tribeca Festival (who dropped “movies” from her name this year), hoped to replicate across the city with this film.
“This is what we’ve been dreaming of – New York is back,” Weinstein said. “This is a tribute to the Dominican community, it’s what’s best in New York. Each generation of immigrants starts somewhere and moves into the community. That’s what’s great about New York, that’s what we want to celebrate. ”
In the theater, Robert De Niro, one of the founders of the festival, introduced Miranda, who then introduced the rest of the cast. The energy was electric from the stage to the seats. When a title card titled “Washington Heights” appeared on screen, the audience cut and clapped.
When the film’s star, Anthony Ramos, arrived, the temporary set was surrounded by a small crowd. As he stepped out in black-and-white cheetah print pants with a matching shirt and jacket, gingerly placed on his shoulders, the crowd thundered on the corner of 175. and Broadway with applause and cheers.
“I did not even grow up going to Broadway, and most New York people do not grow up going to Broadway,” said Brooklyn-born Ramos. “Telling a New York story about a community that is so famous and so special to people from New York is especially special to me.”