Why ‘In the Heights’ made these 5 major changes to the story

Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV, center) is loved by the community, including Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and Nina (Leslie Grace).

(Macall Polay/Warner Bros.)

The subplot of Sonny’s (Gregory Diaz IV) status as an undocumented immigrant is all new for the movie — thanks to Hudes, who thoroughly researched and wrote the musical “Miss You Like Hell,” about a mixed documentation family.

“When I returned to write the screenplay of ‘In the Heights,’ that story had become a part of me in a more immediate way,” she said. At the same time, “Dreamers” were “at the fever pitch of the national conversation, and being demonized over these immigration questions. I wanted to bring that back home to the human level in a strategic way, with the character who loves the United States and Washington Heights the most.”

Initially, Usnavi wants to bring Sonny back to the D.R. with him and visits Sonny’s troubled father (Marc Anthony) to ask him for permission. “The movie eschews the portrayals of Latinos in Hollywood of being flunkies and junkies and dropouts and all these things that are so trite and unfair. But we wanted to raise the stakes for Sonny, and seeing his home life helps us understand that it’s not all fun and games. He’s got a lot of obstacles to overcome.”

The disclosure of Sonny’s status spurs Usnavi to use the lottery winnings to hire an immigration lawyer and inspires Nina to return to Stanford with the goal of fighting for other Dreamers like Sonny. Miranda hopes the new plot “puts a humanizing face on undocumented folks in the United States. You’re telling me Sonny, whom everybody loves, doesn’t belong in this country? That kid who wants to change the world and make his community better?”

Although the final moments of the movie show Usnavi, Vanessa and their child in the neighborhood, Sonny is nowhere to be seen. (If it had included a status update with Sonny, “then we’d have to show where Nina and Benny end up, and it becomes overcrowded,” Hudes said.)

Does he get deported after all?

“I feel that it’s stronger as an open question than giving the audience closure about it,” Hudes said. “What we do know is that his immigration lawyer says to him, ‘The odds are against you,’ and that is and remains the reality. Nina stands in for all of us at that moment: It’s up to us who do have the privilege of citizenship to decide what Sonny’s future is.”

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