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Lin-Manuel Miranda Brings Hidden Diversity to the Mainstream

Lin-Manuel Miranda is currently portraying Lee Scoresby on HBO’s “His Dark Materials.” Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Before 2015, Lin-Manuel Miranda had already become a household name within the Broadway community due to the success of his Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights and other stage projects. However, much of the world had yet to learn of his monumental talents.

Miranda, now known in the mainstream for writing the 2015 smash-hit Broadway musical Hamilton, composing the soundtrack to Disney’s Moana, portraying Jack in Mary Poppins Returns, and a host of other projects on both stage and screen, is heavily influenced by his experience as a Puerto Rican cross-cultural kid.

A Musical Childhood

Both of Lin-Manuel’s parents instilled a love of the arts in him as a child, playing Broadway musical cast albums constantly and attending shows when possible. Lin-Manuel grew up performing, playing piano, and creating based on his unique experience.

His father Luis encouraged him as a young man to pursue writing and take a chance, as Luis himself had done by leaving Puerto Rico for the United States at age 17. This encouragement would eventually lead Lin-Manuel to one of the producers who would bring In the Heights to Broadway, earning him 13 Tony nominations and four wins at the 2008 awards show.

A film version set to hit theaters June 26, 2020, In the Heights provides a look at the life of a primarily Latinx block in Washington Heights, a diverse Manhattan neighborhood in New York City, U.S. that’s historically made up of several immigrant and cross-cultural populations. The show (and forthcoming film) follows the main protagonist Usnavi, the child of immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic.

Cross-Cultural Kid to Cross-Cultural Adult

“I realized … this is awesome. I bring something to the table that my peers don’t. I bring dope Latin music, and I bring dope food, and I live in a part of town where [it’s]… really different from the rest of New York and it’s actually really exciting,” Miranda said in a 2016 interview with NBC News. “When you feel like you are an outsider, you [say], ‘Well, let me show you where I’m from.’”

In the same interview, Luis and Lin-Manuel discuss the importance of history and heritage in reference to not only one’s identity, but also in the larger context of the United States. Both men emphasize the importance of hidden diversity and learning from history in order to create a more inclusive, representative future.

The big-screen version of In the Heights embodies this importance. Based on the Miranda’s musical stage play, this 2020 update also infuses current events and homages to past struggles. “They’re talking about kicking out the Dreamers,” says one of the characters in the trailer. “It’s time to make some noise.” And that’s literally what happens as the plot plays out through song and dance — for mainstream audiences in theaters everywhere.

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