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‘In the Heights’ Premiere Celebrates the Neighborhood That Started It All

At the Plaza de las Americas in Washington Heights, fruit and vegetable vendors usually sell produce until dusk. But on Wednesday, it was transformed into a replica of any other block in the neighborhood. There was a mock bodega, decorated with three Dominican flags that hung from an awning, a faux fire hydrant and a plastic fruit stand. Underneath the entire set ran a yellow carpet.

The reproduction served as a backdrop for the luminaries attending for the premiere of “In the Heights,” the big-screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’s Tony-winning Broadway show. The sunny carpet welcomed the cast and crew back to the Upper Manhattan neighborhood where it was filmed. The premiere, which also served as opening night of the 20th Tribeca Festival, was held at the United Palace, a majestic 91-year-old theater with a projection system that, years earlier, before his success on Broadway, Miranda had helped raise money to buy and then helped install.

While the actors, producers and executives streamed down the yellow carpet, pausing for pictures with photographers and interviews with the news media, the real Washington Heights whirred behind them. Waitresses at Malecon, a Dominican restaurant across the street from the plaza, peered outside the windows in between serving heaps of rice, stew chicken and beans, trying to figure out why crowds had formed in front of their restaurant on a sticky 90-degree day.

Diners at El Conde Nuevo, another Dominican restaurant across the street, stood on the corner also trying to decipher the rumpus outside. And then, Miranda — wearing a pale blue, long-sleeve chacabana, jeans and the same Nike Air Force 1s, often called Uptowns in the City, that he wore to the Broadway opening of “In the Heights” — arrived with his family, and everyone erupted in cheers.

Jorge Peguero, 71, was on his way home when he stopped and became a proud member of the crowd.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, and this is fantastic,” said Peguero, a resident of Washington Heights since 1969. “It’s a big deal that Tribeca chose to represent the Dominican community, and it’s the first time ever that we see anything like it.”

Miranda, who still lives in Washington Heights, had hoped to premiere the movie where it is set.

“All I ever wanted was this neighborhood to be proud of themselves and the way they are portrayed,” said Miranda, who was within walking distance of his home and his parent’s home. “I still walk around here with my headphones on, and everyone is just like well, Lin-Manuel is writing.”

“I feel safe here,” he added.

Many Washington Heights residents have not yet had their encounter with Miranda in the neighborhood. Eglis Suarez, 48, was hoping to change that.

“I want to see Lin,” she said. “We are so proud, this is progress for this community and for the city.”

Exuberant and critically adored, “In the Heights,” directed by Jon M. Chu, is a look at the shifts that happen between first- and second-generation immigrants. The elders hope to make it out of the neighborhood they left home for, while their younger counterparts plan to stay in the neighborhood they call home. It is a story that has occurred a million times over in the area and one that Hudes, who also lives there, encountered daily while filming.

“This isn’t about a hero or a protagonist, it’s about what happens when a community holds hands together and life kind of pushes those hands apart,” said Hudes, who wore large hoops and a flower-print jumpsuit. “It’s about these blocks and these living rooms where you go after school and do your homework or play bingo during a blackout, its all here.”

Washington Heights has been home to middle- and working-class Dominicans since the 1960s. In the 1980s, the neighborhood, like many others in the city, was flooded with cocaine and crack, making it unsafe for the community. Those days are past now and some residents say it’s time to move on from a narrative in countless movies and rap songs that no longer fits the neighborhood.

“I’m so proud of this movie,” said Sandra Marin Martinez, 67, a lifelong Washington Heights resident. “Who wouldn’t be? At least there’s no shooting.”

“Everything is dancing, these are my people, I grew up dancing here,” she added as she waited for a glimpse of the cast walking into the theater.

Yudelka Rodriguez, 51, was standing with her daughter waiting for the cast to arrive. She was excited to see her hood in the movie and herself represented.

“I am so emotional,” Rodriguez said as she leaned on a metal gate. “This is the most beautiful thing, to see that your barrio is involved in this; it’s the best feeling.”

That feeling is something Paula Weinstein, an organizer of the Tribeca Festival (which dropped “film” from its name this year) hoped to replicate all over the city with this movie.

“This is what we’ve been dreaming of — New York is back,” Weinstein said. “This is a tribute to the Dominican community, this is what is the best of New York. Every generation of immigrants start one place and move into the community, That’s what’s great about New York, that’s what we want to celebrate.”

In the theater, Robert De Niro, a founder of the festival, introduced Miranda, who then introduced the rest of the cast. The energy was electric from the stage to the seats. When a title card that read “Washington Heights” appeared on the screen, the crowd whooped and applauded.

When the movie’s star, Anthony Ramos, arrived, the makeshift set was surrounded by a small crowd. As he stepped out in black-and-white cheetah-print pants, with a matching shirt and jacket, gingerly placed on his shoulders, the crowd at the corner of 175th and Broadway thundered with applause and cheers.

“I didn’t grow up even going to Broadway, and most New York people don’t grow up going to Broadway,” said Ramos, who is a Brooklyn native. “To tell a New York story about a community that’s so familiar and so special to people from New York is particularly special for me.”

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Regionales

Major Moments From the Final Democratic Mayoral Debate

Weather: Sunny again, with a high close to 80.

Alternate-side parking: In effect through tomorrow. Suspended on Saturday for Juneteenth.


Five days of campaigning left.

With Tuesday’s primary fast approaching, Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City sparred over matters of public safety, schooling and homelessness last night as they shared their closing arguments in the final debate before the vote closes.

The early voting period lasts through Sunday, and the ranked-choice system has injected a large degree of unpredictability into the race. Still, Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, remains a consistent front-runner in the sparse available polling.

[Read more about the debate and the candidates’ visions for New York.]

Here are a few of the standout moments:

This week, Andrew Yang, a former presidential candidate, received the endorsement of the Captains Endowment Association, the union that represents police captains. When asked at the debate to explain why he was the candidate best equipped to tackle a rise in shootings, Mr. Yang pointed to the endorsement.

“The people you should ask about this are Eric’s former colleagues in the police captains’ union,” Mr. Yang said.

Mr. Adams tried to dismiss the endorsement, suggesting that he had not even asked for it. Mr. Yang accused him of lying.

Mr. Yang sounded alarms around matters of mental health and homelessness, saying that the issues were impeding the city’s recovery and that homeless people needed to be introduced to a “better environment.” He said he would rebuild “the stock of psych beds in our city.”

Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, shot back: “That is the greatest non-answer I’ve ever heard,” he said, discussing a need to create tens of thousands of units of “truly affordable housing.”

The question encouraged contenders to sling a little mud, and Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams again targeted each other. Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner, ripped the “defund the police” movement. Maya Wiley challenged Mr. Adams on policing.

“The worst idea I’ve ever heard is bringing back stop and frisk and the anti-crime unit from Eric Adams,” said Ms. Wiley, a civil rights lawyer. “Which, one, is racist; two, is unconstitutional; and, three, didn’t stop any crime; and, four, it will not happen in a Maya Wiley administration.”

Mr. Adams responded that, if he was elected, the abuses of stop and frisk would not return.


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A Black feminist writer from Harlem. The first Black woman to have a play produced on Broadway. An actress and singer who lived in Manhattan and broke ground for Black performers.

New York City officials announced on Wednesday that 16 parks across the five boroughs would be named for those figures and other Black leaders who made significant contributions in areas from education and entertainment to civil rights and community relations.

“Our goal is to represent the culture and diversity of New York City,” the city’s parks commissioner, Mitchell J. Silver, said at a news conference at Mullaly Park in the Bronx. The roughly 15-acre park in the Concourse neighborhood of the borough was a focus of local activism as protests arose to push for officials to change its title, citing concerns about the record of its namesake, who published attacks on the Emancipation Proclamation.

“For years, the community has expressed discontent and a desire to rename this beloved green space,” Mr. Silver said. A new name that honors the Rev. Wendell Foster, the first Black elected city official in the Bronx, will be adopted in September 2022, he said.

The move comes amid a larger push to change some names of monuments and landmarks in New York and elsewhere, sometimes to leave behind references to figures with racist pasts and at other times to honor Black New Yorkers. Several top Democratic mayoral candidates have suggested they would support renaming sites including streets named for slaveholders.

As for park spaces, those that will take on new names include the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn (changing to Lena Horne Bandshell); Hell’s Kitchen Park in Manhattan (to become Lorraine Hansberry Park); and St. Albans Oval in Queens (to be renamed Musicians Oval in honor of influential Black jazz musicians).

It’s Thursday — get outside.


Dear Diary:

My mother loves Denzel Washington. So it was only natural that we would go see him in the “The Iceman Cometh” when she visited a few years ago.

My legs were stiff and my mouth was dry after the four-hour production ended, and I was ready to go home. But my mother loves Denzel Washington. So we waited outside the stage door for the cast to emerge.

My mother was easily the oldest person there, but she was grinning like a teenager about to meet her hero.

“Do you have a pen?” she asked me nervously.

“These actors always carry pens,” I said with confidence. “Don’t worry.”

Soon, though, I was frantically asking everyone around us for a pen while my mother continued to wait for the star to emerge.

When I got back to where she was standing, I overheard her chatting with other members of the cast.

Denzel Washington never came out that night, but my mother still proudly tells everyone back home how she invited half the cast of a Broadway show to visit her in Colorado.

I’m glad I didn’t have a pen.

— Sid Gopinath


New York Today is published weekdays around 6 a.m. Sign up here to get it by email. You can also find it at nytoday.com.

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Regionales

It’s Not Too Late to Discover Louise Meriwether

“My uncle and father were always politically involved,” she said. “And I was with them, so I became politically involved, too.”

Credit…Fern Gillespie

In 1965, Meriwether earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California, Los Angeles. After three years at The Sentinel, she left the paper to become the first African American story analyst at Universal Studios, a job that entails reading and providing feedback on scripts. Around this time, she also joined the Watts Writers Workshop, a collective by the screenwriter Budd Schulberg, where she began writing “Daddy Was a Number Runner.” “I remember asking myself: This woman is a great writer. What is she doing in a workshop?” the poet Quincy Troupe said in an interview. “She was way above everybody else.”

When Troupe reminisces on their friendship, he recalls a moment in which he is convinced she saved his life. Driving home from a poetry reading, he was stopped and searched by police officers. Meriwether happened to be on the road with a friend who was a lawyer. When she saw Troupe, she stopped her car and went to question the officers, asking for their badge numbers.

“I said, ‘I’ve got your numbers, and that’s my attorney over there,’ in case they tried to shoot me,” Meriwether said. “That sort of defused the situation, you know?”

In 1969, Meriwether, who had divorced, returned to New York to care for her ailing mother. As she did in Los Angeles, she dove into New York’s artistic and political scenes, starting Committee of Concerned Blacks, an anti-Apartheid group, in 1972, and joining the Harlem Writers Guild, a group whose founders included the writers John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy and John Oliver Killens. Her circle of friends encompassed still more writers, including Maya Angelou and Sonia Sanchez.

“I think one thing you can get from Louise is loyalty, support, and undying love for her people,” Hill, her friend and caretaker, said.

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Regionales

Why This Overlooked Residential Island in N.Y.C. Wants Tourists

When Med Abrous, a restaurateur behind trendy establishments in Los Angeles, Nashville and Seattle, got the call about opening a restaurant on Roosevelt Island in New York, he almost hung up the phone.

“The last time I was at Roosevelt Island was probably in the third grade for a class trip, where we took the tram, ” said Mr. Abrous, who grew up in New York City. “All I remember is we learned something about smallpox, and then I never went back.” (In the 1800s the island, now a quiet residential neighborhood, was the repository for several city asylums and hospitals, including one for smallpox, as well as a prison).

The restaurant would be part of Graduate, Roosevelt Island’s first hotel, which opened this month. The property is on the campus of Cornell Tech, a hub for cutting-edge graduate students in tech, design, law and business, which opened four years ago. Although the university has been a boon to the community — which was redeveloped starting in the mid-20th century and has plenty of dated architecture to prove it — would a stylish hotel and restaurant really work out here?

“People who have lived in New York City for 20 or 30 years have never been to Roosevelt Island,” said Ben Weprin, the founder and chief executive of Graduate Hotels. “That is the biggest challenge, to educate people on how close and easy and fun Roosevelt Island is.”

Mr. Abrous and his business partner agreed to at least visit the site, and he was immediately impressed. “I was taken aback just being in the middle of the East River,” he said. New high-rises were plentiful, and the rooftop of the hotel offered views of several New York City landmarks, from the United Nations building across the river to One World Trade Center farther south.

He signed on to create the Panorama Room, a bar and lounge with the very same rooftop views that seduced him, and he is aiming for a splashy midsummer opening. The idea is to make the restaurant a destination unto itself. “I’ll go into deep Brooklyn or Queens for a great meal,” he said, adding that he wants Roosevelt Island to be a destination, too. “We want this place to have the same weightiness as the Rainbow Room or Windows of the World,” he said.

In a way, the combination of Cornell Tech’s opening and the pandemic’s hitting the city has given Roosevelt Island a new chance at the spotlight. In addition to the hundreds of graduate students who have moved there, other New Yorkers in search of green space and affordable rents have gobbled up real estate. Several longtime residents are recommitting to the area, opening yoga studios and restaurants. And then there is Graduate, with its rooftop bar.

“It’s funny, having lived here so long, to see something so artsy and modern and hip coming to the neighborhood,” said Amanda Baehr Fuller, 48, an illustrator who has lived on the island for 15 years. “In the past we used to hear about things possibly opening, and years would go by and it would never happen,” she continued. “Now it’s getting better.”

Although many locals are thrilled about the attention the island is getting, the population of around 14,000 is still not enough to keep these new businesses thriving, said Shelton J. Haynes, the president and chief operating officer of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, which functions like a local government.

“These small businesses definitely need tourists to come in,” he said. “Many were hit very hard during the pandemic. Especially now, they need a hybrid of residents as well as tourism to stay alive.” The corporation is considering a series of free tours, both on foot and by bus, to bring in more people, Mr. Haynes said.

So it all hinges on foot traffic. The island battles an unfair reputation as being hard to reach despite access from the F train, the ferry, the Queensboro Bridge and of course the island’s unique tram. “We are still in the middle of the East River, and I am reminded of it all the time,” Mr. Abrous said. “This may have been a completely crazy idea,” he said of his decision to commit to Roosevelt Island.

In these late-pandemic days, the appeal of the area is obvious. It’s possible to walk through its parks and not see another human. Families, especially, appreciate the open fields, tree-lined promenades and playgrounds. Later this summer, Southpoint Park will open on the southern tip of the island. “It will be similar to Brooklyn Bridge Park, where you can walk right up to the water,” Mr. Haynes said.

For people interested in living here, there is currently a wait list for three-bedroom apartments, which is unprecedented, according to Chris Schmidt, a senior vice president at the real estate firm Related Companies, which owns eight (and soon to be nine) buildings on the island.

Last summer, Paul Krikler, 60, who owns a consulting and business coaching business, moved to Roosevelt Island from the Upper East Side of Manhattan with his three teenage children. “It’s so calm and peaceful and quiet,” he said. “There is green everywhere and water everywhere and public benches everywhere. During the pandemic having that space was just lovely.” He likes how people bring hammocks and hang them between the trees.

An adjustment for him, however, was the lack of amenities. “There’s very limited shopping here, so you have to use Amazon and make the most use of your time when you’re on the mainland,” he said. “For example, there is no bike shop.” Mr. Krikler is working to change this by getting a mobile bike shop to visit the island regularly.

Before the pandemic there was one of everything, said David Kramer, who oversees Related’s retail spaces for Roosevelt Island. “There was a pizzeria, a Japanese restaurant, a Greek diner, a Chinese restaurant and a supermarket,” he said.

In the past year, however, more specialty offerings have arrived. Wholesome Macelleria, a high-end butcher shop, opened over the winter. Last September came Granny Annie’s, a restaurant that became a go-to spot for cocktails. And this summer, Graduate will introduce two new restaurants overseen by Mr. Abrous.

Jax Schott, who has lived on the island for over 12 years and is a yoga and barre instructor, is opening the island’s first dedicated yoga and barre studio, Island Om, this summer. She’s transforming a 2,000-square-foot space on Main Street that used to be a makeshift batting cage. “We have a lot of wellness people on the island, and I am trying to figure out how to bring them together and make this a sort of hub for the community,” she said.

The hope is that the 224-room Graduate Hotel will lift up the other businesses. The property has gone out of its way to be bold. In the lobby is a 12-foot statue by Hebru Brantley, an artist known for his Afrofuturist style, as well as 5,000 square feet of shelved vintage textbooks. There is a meeting room inspired by the Tom Hanks movie “Big,” with a giant piano mat and a Zoltar machine.

“We need people to come and be, like, ‘Holy shoot, I can’t wait to bring my friends here,’ ” Mr. Weprin said. “We have to make this a landmark of the city.”

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