'In the Heights' Feels Like Eternal Summer, but in What Year Is the Film Set?

Fans of the new movie 'In the Heights' based on the musical of the same name are curious what year the events of the film take place. Details inside!


Jun. 11 2021, Published 11:24 a.m. ET

'In the Heights' Anthony Ramos as Usnavi and Melissa Barrera as Vanessa.
Source: HBO Max

The unofficial film of the summer has already arrived, and the vibrant joy of In the Heights is capturing the hearts of audiences everywhere. Based on the Tony-winning musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes and directed by Crazy Rich Asians director John M. Chu, In the Heights will have you singing and dancing your way to fall.

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Based on the film's true-to-life portrayal of the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, many have wondered: What year does In the Heights take place? Read on to find out everything we know about the period and setting of In the Heights.

Anthony Ramos as Usnavi in 'In the Heights.'
Source: HBO Max
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So, what year does 'In the Heights' take place?

Lin-Manuel Miranda had been writing In the Heights since he was a sophomore in college, and the musical began previews on Broadway in February 2008. The libretto specifies that the show takes place between July 3 and July 5 but doesn't specify a year, leading many to believe that the show is set in the implied present.

Source: Instagram
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One Reddit user attempts to deduce the year In the Heights takes place by using a throwaway reference from the song "Benny's Dispatch" that discusses baseball player Manny Ramirez, a native of Washington Heights, coming to town. Based on the schedule for the Boston Red Sox, the team that Manny played for, the user was able to figure out that In the Heights probably took place in 2008 a little in the future — after the show's Broadway opening in February.

Similarly, the user also pointed out that Usnavi brings a bottle of wine to the Rosarios and refers to it as "vintage 2008," which would also indicate that the musical is set in 2008. However, eagle-eyed commentators also remarked that the blackout featured in the show is reflective of a similar blackout of 2003, but the majority of the original musical was written in 1999.

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Source: Instagram

Thankfully, In the Heights book writer and co-screenwriter Quiara Hudes settled the timeline debate once and for all in an interview with Vox. She explained that the original musical is set in 2008–2009, but that for the film version, "We decided to make it contemporary."

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Quiara also added that they utilized the contemporary setting as a way to address important issues within the Latino community, saying, "But the fever pitch, the way that immigration was being used as the sort of litmus test of Americanness, and even humanity — it felt like we had to address it. And I was excited to address that more directly in the writing."

All of the themes present in In the Heights are timeless, so assigning a set year to the film doesn't affect the overall messages of love, joy, and pursuing your dreams. The film stars Anthony Ramos of Hamilton fame as Usnavi, Melissa Barrera as Vanessa, Leslie Grace as Nina, and Corey Hawkins as Benny. Lin-Manuel himself also makes a cameo as the Piragua Man, after having originated the role of Usnavi on Broadway.

In the Heights is now available for streaming on HBO Max or viewing in theaters.

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