In The Heights’ Corey Hawkins and Melissa Barrera on “bankable” stars and big time buzz

It’s taken about 15 years for In The Heights to transition from the stage to the screen, and that’s not due to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lack of trying. As he referenced when we talked to him recently, it was actually due to studios’ concern over the lack of “bankable” Latinx stars. As Miranda told Variety earlier this Spring, often the adaptation was waylaid by executives who told him, ‘There’s not a lot of Latino stars who test international,” which he said “means ‘We’re not taking a chance on an expensive movie with Latino stars.’”

That Hollywood reluctance is something Heights star Melissa Barrera knows all too well. Though she stars in Heights as badass designer Vanessa, we at The A.V. Club first fell in love with her in Starz’ excellent but under-watched show Vida, which featured an all Latinx cast and writers room. Given that Vida never really found a large audience, we wondered what Barrera made of In The Heights’ buzz now. Here’s what she said:

It’s very exciting and it feels long overdue because I’ve been a part of projects that I’m very proud of that I feel are [making] great strides for representation, and then they stay a secret. It’s heartbreaking when that happens because you’re “there’s so much for the world in this story,” and you just wish that it got the audience that it deserves.

So the possibility of this finally being the project that puts Latinos on the map and that becomes not just a niche project that’s just for the Latino audience, but for a global audience is exciting.

Her co-star Corey Hawkins, who plays Benny in the movie, agrees, saying, “It also just means that our stories have value creatively and emotionally, but also financially, and that we deserve and have earned the right to be here and tell these stories. The fact that there’s a creative team that’s full of people of color leading that charge is huge.”

There’s even more from Barrera, Hawkins, and co-star Leslie Grace in the video above, including Hawkins’ story of auditioning for the role.


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