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“In the Heights” premiere celebrates the neighborhood that started it all

In the Plaza de las Americas in Washington Heights, fruit and vegetable vendors typically sell produce until dusk. But on Wednesday, it was turned into a replica of any other block in the neighborhood. There was a fake bodega, decorated with three Dominican flags hanging from a canopy, a fake fire hydrant, and a plastic fruit stand. Under the whole set ran a yellow carpet.

The reproduction served as the backdrop for the celebrities attending the premiere of “In the Heights,” the big-screen adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway show by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes. 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, took place at United Palace, a stately 91-year-old theater with a projection system that years earlier, before her Broadway success, Miranda had helped raise funds. to buy and then helped to install.

As actors, producers and executives paraded the yellow carpet, stopping for photos with photographers and media interviews, the real Washington Heights purred behind them. Waitresses at the Malecon, a Dominican restaurant across the plaza, peered out the windows between dishes of rice, chicken stew and beans, trying to figure out why crowds had formed outside their restaurant on a sticky day. at 90 degrees. .

Diners from El Conde Nuevo, another Dominican restaurant across the street, stood around the corner, also trying to decipher the heckling outside. And then, Miranda – dressed in a pale blue long-sleeved chacabana, jeans, and the same Nike Air Force 1s, often referred to as Uptowns in the City, that he wore at the Broadway opening of “In the Heights.” »- arrived with his family, and everyone burst into joy.

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 it’s fantastic,” said Peguero, a Washington Heights resident since 1969. “It’s a big deal that Tribeca has chosen to represent the Dominican community, and it’s the first time we see something like this.

Miranda, who still lives in Washington Heights, had hoped to present the film where it takes place.

“All I ever wanted was for this neighborhood to be proud of themselves and the way they are portrayed,” said Miranda, who was within walking distance of her and her home. of his parents. “I always walk around here with my headphones on, and everyone is fine, Lin-Manuel writes.”

“I feel safe here,” he added.

Many Washington Heights residents have yet to meet Miranda in the neighborhood. Eglis Suarez, 48, hoped to change that.

“I want to see Lin,” she said. “We are so proud, this is progress for this community and for the city.”

Exuberant and critically adored, “In the Heights,” directed by Jon M. Chu, is a look at the changes occurring between first and second generation immigrants. Seniors hope to move out of the neighborhood they left home for, 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 on a daily basis during filming.

“It’s not about a hero or protagonist, but about what happens when a community holds hands and life kind of pulls those hands apart,” said Hudes, who wore large hoops and a floral jumpsuit. “It’s those blocks and lounges where you go after school and do your homework or play bingo during a power outage, it’s all there.”

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 inundated with cocaine and crack, making it unsafe for the community. Those days are gone and some residents are saying it’s time to move on from a narrative in countless movies and rap songs that no longer fits the neighborhood.

“I am so proud of this movie,” said Sandra Marin Martinez, 67, a longtime 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 while waiting to get a glimpse of the actors entering the theater.

Yudelka Rodriguez, 51, stood with her daughter while waiting for the casting to arrive. She was thrilled to see her hoodie in the movie and herself portrayed.

“I’m so emotional,” Rodriguez said as she leaned against a metal door. “It’s the most beautiful thing to see that your barrio is involved in this; this is the best feeling.

That sentiment is something that Paula Weinstein, a Tribeca Festival organizer (who removed the word “film” from her name this year), was hoping to replicate citywide with this film.

“This is what we dreamed of – New York is back,” Weinstein said. “It’s a tribute to the Dominican community, it’s the best there is in New York. Every generation of immigrants starts a place and moves into the community, that’s what’s great about New York, that’s what we want to celebrate.

At the theater, Robert De Niro, one of the founders of the festival, presented Miranda, who then presented the rest of the cast. The energy was electric from the stage to the seats. When a title card reading “Washington Heights” appeared on screen, the crowd shouted and cheered.

When the star of the film, Anthony Ramos, arrived, the makeshift set was surrounded by a small crowd. As he stepped out in black and white cheetah-print pants, with a matching shirt and jacket, delicately placed over his shoulders, the crowd at the corner of 175th and Broadway roared with applause and cheers.

“I didn’t even grow up going to Broadway, and most New Yorkers don’t grow up going to Broadway,” said Ramos, from Brooklyn. “Telling a New York story about a community so familiar and special to New Yorkers is especially special to me. “

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