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In the Heights Is Cultural Erasure, Not Celebration

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Melissa Barrera and Anthony Ramos in Into the Heights. (Macall Polay/Warner Bros. Entertainment) A goose-stepping, hive-mind musical for these progressive times

The worst cultural appropriation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights comes from the maestro himself. Altering lyrics from the song “96,000,” he reflects the current Obama-style imperiousness. Miranda had originally composed a Black Latino striver’s cheer: “I’ll be a businessman man richer than Nina’s Daddy / Donald Trump and I own the links and he’s my caddy”

Now Miranda rewrites it as “Tiger Woods and I own the links.” This update weakens the social and economic punch. It prevents In The Heights from celebrating triumphant American aspiration; now it’s simply about cultural erasure and self-delusion. Miranda’s Hamilton wasn’t a great show, but it epitomized the Obama era of political power worship through bizarre racial patronization. Now Miranda proves it was all in exchange for pettiness and Soviet-style dishonesty.

Miranda composed his 2008 show about New York City’s Dominican Republic enclave in Washington Heights as if he was putting its non-white immigrant community on display. It’s the same local-color concept handed down from Porgy and Bess, West Side Story, Zoot Suit, and Do the Right Thing. Miranda shamelessly pilfers all four but goes light on sociological angst. His loose story frame about hustling, hardworking little people like bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), car-service owner Kevin (Jimmy Smits), and dreamer Benny (Corey Hawkins) imitates the hip-hop comedies Next Day Air and Lottery Ticket. Miranda — “incredibly talented,” as the media dubs him — puts these keystones through his personal Broadway-processor machine, and Hollywood’s awkward, ersatz result deracinates their essence even further.

Whose idea was it to hand Puerto Rican Miranda’s shallow Dominican folktale over to Jon M. Chu, director of Crazy Rich Asians, the most ethnically fake, aggressively woke movie of 2018? In the era when racial groups complain about not being “seen,” Chu depicts the Other as outsiders see them: diversity stereotypes, proud ethnic minions. Miranda’s gimmick of erasing Trump and travestying race and politics is exacerbated by Chu’s ultra-slickness.

Chu smash-cuts TV-commercial clichés that reviewers

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