Home Posts What Jon M. Chu Learned From 'Crazy Rich Asians' To Increase The Power Of 'In The Heights'
What Jon M. Chu Learned From 'Crazy Rich Asians' To Increase The Power Of 'In The Heights'
Crazy Rich Asians

What Jon M. Chu Learned From 'Crazy Rich Asians' To Increase The Power Of 'In The Heights'


When I moved my Zoom screen slightly to the side, I noticed a set of framed magazine covers behind director Jon M. Chu: the cast of “Crazy Rich Asians” on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, Constance Wu on the cover of Time, and Henry Golding on the cover of GQ.

Chu began showing me other mementos on his desk, including a mahjong tile from one of the film's most climactic scenes and a strip of film containing the first 24 frames of his first feature, 2008's "Step Up 2: The Streets."

“These things just remind me of where I’ve come from and where I’m going,” he explained, adding, “Someone once told me: No one is going to buy you a trophy — you have to keep your own trophies.”

The reminders are for more than just himself.

“To me, the permanence of that, of putting her on the cover of Time, or him on the cover of GQ, or Awkwafina on ‘SNL,’ giving her a Golden Globe, you can’t unsee that,” Chu said.

That importance and visibility also guided him in his next film, the long-awaited adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegra Hudes' Tony-winning musical, which follows bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and his friends and neighbors in New York City's Washington Heights during a summer heat wave, as they reflect on their dreams and ambitions.

Soon after the musical premiered on Broadway in 2008, Hollywood came calling, but the film adaptation was shuffled between various studios, producers, and directors for years before finally premiering in theaters and on HBO Max on June 11, a year after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed its release date.

Like the release of “Crazy Rich Asians,” the first Hollywood studio film in 25 years with a majority Asian cast, “In the Heights” is a long-overdue landmark because it places Latinx characters at the center of their own story in a major Hollywood film. For years, Latinx moviegoers have had the highest per capita attendance of any ethnic group, despite accounting for only 4.5% of speaking characters in the top-grossing films.

Before the release of “Crazy Rich Asians” in 2018, Chu and the book’s author Kevin Kwan considered a big, enticing offer from Netflix, but they turned it down, recognizing the importance of giving Asian Americans a rare chance to see themselves at the center of a major movie on a big screen, and went with a theatrical release from Warner Bros.

At one point last year, he and Miranda considered releasing the film on streaming or on-demand on the day of its planned theatrical release, to “give this to the audience at home, when they would need the joy,” Chu recalled.

Many other major films chose to go that route during the height of the pandemic, providing viewers with something comforting to watch from the safety of their homes. But Chu convinced Miranda that waiting until audiences could return to theaters was critical to maximizing the film's power and visibility.

“Lin and I had a very difficult conversation about my lessons from 'Crazy Rich Asians,' and I said, 'the giant machine of AT&T and Warner Bros.'

“Lin and I had a very difficult conversation about my lessons from 'Crazy Rich Asians,' and I said, 'the giant machine of AT&T and Warner Bros.'.are saying that these people are worth seeing, that they're beautiful and valuable...and that you should take time out of your day and put down your phone to pay attention to them — oh, and pay money to see them,” Chu said.

“Lin and I had a very difficult conversation about my lessons from 'Crazy Rich Asians,' and I said, 'the giant machine of AT&T and Warner Bros.'.are saying that these people are worth seeing, that they're beautiful and valuable...and that you should take time out of your day and put down your phone to pay attention to them — oh, and pay money to see them,” Chu said..“I'm only aware of its power.”

“Lin and I had a very difficult conversation about my lessons from 'Crazy Rich Asians,' and I said, 'the giant machine of AT&T and Warner Bros.'.are saying that these people are worth seeing, that they're beautiful and valuable...and that you should take time out of your day and put down your phone to pay attention to them — oh, and pay money to see them,” Chu said..“I'm only aware of its power.”.And bigger than the movie itself, these actors who are now going to become movie stars — Anthony Ramos, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Corey [Hawkins], Daphne [Rubin-Vega], and Olga [Merediz], they are going to open up whole new lanes for so many people to follow in their footsteps — that is the true power.

“Lin and I had a very difficult conversation about my lessons from 'Crazy Rich Asians,' and I said, 'the giant machine of AT&T and Warner Bros.'.are saying that these people are worth seeing, that they're beautiful and valuable...and that you should take time out of your day and put down your phone to pay attention to them — oh, and pay money to see them,” Chu said..“I'm only aware of its power.”.And bigger than the movie itself, these actors who are now going to become movie stars — Anthony Ramos, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Corey [Hawkins], Daphne [Rubin-Vega], and Olga [Merediz], they are going to open up whole new lanes for so many people to follow in their footsteps — that is the true power.."

It serves as a reminder that representation can take many forms, such as the increased cultural visibility that comes with the release of a major film: magazine covers, TV commercials, merchandising, red carpets, and awards.

“It’s not just the movie,” Chu explained, “but the whole thing: be on the cover of magazines, go host that thing; that is the true change that I saw ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ do.”

Thankfully, the release of “In the Heights” comes at a time when its cast and crew can finally reunite and hold a celebration befitting of the film’s joyous tone. On June 9, “In the Heights” will have its world premiere at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, at the United Palace theater in Washington Heights, bringing the film home to where it takes place and was filmed.

We all feel pressure, and it's good to feel pressure. I'm down with pressure. But on day one, we say, throw it all away. Let's make a great movie. Let's entertain the hell out of this audience. If you show them beauty, love, joy, all the things we need and want in our lives, and you show them that they're not alone, the audience will be there.

Chu, Jon M.

Chu is so excited to finally release the film that he admitted he was looking forward to long days of Zoom interviews with journalists.

“I’m trying to savor every day of this,” he said, “because normally talking exhausts me, but I can't get enough of it.”

It's difficult not to sound hyperbolic when describing how jubilant and celebratory the film is, and how it couldn't have come at a better time; even while watching it alone in my apartment, I felt like getting up and dancing. There are ambitious and impressive musical numbers, a bright and vibrant color palette, and choreography that Chu described as "less traditional Broadway and more stree."

Chu's vision for "In the Heights" was described by Hudes as "really making it as Hollywood and cinematic as possible, a real sense of pride and arrival for Latinos in Hollywood."

Chu explained that it was less of an explicit mission statement and more of a desire to treat each character's dreams and desires "as big as any big, epic movie."

“The ending shot of the opening number: Normally, a musical number pulls back, and you see the whole street,” Chu explained. “In our version, we start with the whole street. We push in, and we could pick anybody on this block. We're gonna pick this guy who owns this bodega on the corner, and we're gonna say his struggles, conflicts, and hopes are bigger than [those of] any main character in a rom-com.

For a long time, Hollywood executives believed that major films by and about people of color wouldn't sell. Over the years, movie after movie, including "Crazy Rich Asians," which became the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade, have helped chip away at that myth. However, the list of movies is still relatively short, reflecting Hollywood's often glacial pace of change.

Chu wants “In the Heights” to be “one of many, if we do our job right,” as he did with “Crazy Rich Asians.” Thinking about it that way, he says, makes the weight of expectations feel a little more manageable.

“We all feel pressure, and it’s good to feel pressure. I’m down with pressure. But day one, we say, throw it all away. Let’s make a great movie. Let’s entertain the hell out of this audience,” he said. “If you show them beauty, and you show them love, joy, all the things that we need and want in our lives, and you show them that they’re not alone, the audience will be there.

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