Is ‘In the Heights’ Based on a True Story?

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In the Heights—the new movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning musical that is now in theaters and on HBO Max—opens with Anthony Ramos wishing the world a very sultry “good morning” from the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights. And that’s just the beginning of a heartfelt tale of love, community, struggle, life, and death that takes place on that block.

Miranda, who grew up in the primarily Latino New York neighborhood known as Washington Heights, wrote the first draft of In the Heights while he was still in college, determined to create a musical that reflected the life he knew. Now, alongside director Jon M. Chu and screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes, Miranda has brought that story to the big screen.

Ramos stars as Usnavi, a bodega owner in Washington Heights who dreams of someday returning to the Dominican Republic. Through Usnavi’s customers, we meet the entire neighborhood, including his unofficial abuela, the ladies who work next door at the salon, his best friend Benny, and the love of his life, a girl named Vanessa. As we soon learn, Usnavi is not the only one with a dream.

It’s a good story full of wonderful, complicated characters. And though it is not based on a true story, it does speak truth to a real community.

IS IN THE HEIGHTS BASED ON A TRUE STORY?

No. While the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights is real—and while the In the Heights movie did film in the real Washington Heights—the characters and story of In the Heights are completely fictional, and not based on a true story.

That said, it is understandable why some might think In the Heights could be based a true story. It’s true that Miranda did grow up in Washington Heights, and it’s also true that the protagonist, Usnavi—played by Miranda in the original Broadway production—is in love with a girl named Vanessa, which just happens to be the name of Miranda’s IRL wife, Vanessa Nadal.

Nadal, who is an attorney and also a Washington Heights native, joked about the character on Twitter this week.

“When we started dating, it was a bit weird that @Lin_Manuel was writing about (1) a girl named Vanessa that (2) lived on my block and who (3) his character was in love with,” Nadal wrote. “He told me I was more like Nina. It doesn’t matter bc this show captures our whole community.”

Even though In The Heights is not based on a true story, it is Miranda’s love letter to the neighborhood where he grew up. The story and characters may not be real, but the feeling of love, community, and joy is true. If you want to see for yourself, take a trip on the A train uptown—even farther than Harlem—the next time you’re in New York City.

Watch In the Heights on HBO Max

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