The (real?) magic at the heart of the Lin-Manuel Mirandaverse


Musicals can be magic. Usually, that magic isn’t literal. Sure, it might seem like Fred Astaire or Ryan Gosling from La La Land are breaking the laws of physics within the cinematic worlds they inhabit, but often these are just flights of fancy amidst a mostly realistic setting. Not the stories of Lin-Manuel Miranda, if you ask me.

Perhaps the most outrageous moment from the new film version of his musical, In the Heights, is when Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina (Leslie Grace) dance on the side of their apartment building. It’s a scene that either moves you to tears or makes you reach for a barf bag, but regardless of how you feel, it’s magic.

And what if the magic in all of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical films was real? What if these characters are manipulating our natural laws and are witches, warlocks, necromancers, and the like? Including and especially Abuela Claudia, who is clearly the most powerful caster in the world?

In a new episode of Polygon’s Galaxy Brains, Jonah Ray and I are joined by comedian and the host of the Hyphenated podcast, Joanna Hausmann, to untangle the Lin-Manuel Mirandaverse and decide whether or not Abuela can wield magical powers. Outlandish? Maybe. But as Joanna wisely points out, the reason why anyone might even detect a “Mirandaverse” in the first place may be even more important than it actually existing. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation (which has been edited for clarity):

Dave: The death of Abuela Claudia is a huge plot point in the stage play and in this movie version of In the Heights. There’s also an important grandmother character in Moana. Plus Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music for the ultimate space grandma herself, Maz Kanata in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. What’s up with this dude and grannies?

Joanna: He’s Latino! Latino culture is full of machismo, but it’s also a very matriarchal society. So grandmothers are perceived as people you venerate in the family, the people that need the most respect. They are like the gods, the demigods. That grandma is basically a demigod in Moana. In In the Heights, she is kind of a demigod as well. She is the mother of all. Not even mother. I don’t even know what she is. She’s beyond a mother.

Jonah: She’s the Virgin Mary. She’s never had her own kids, but she has all these children.

Joanna: Oh, bingo. It’s the Virgin Mary and Latin culture is very Catholic. So it all links back exactly to this sort of idea of the mothering perfect female that isn’t a Hollywood trope. It’s a trope within the Latino culture.

Dave: Would it be fair to say that Abuela is also magic?

Joanna: I think she’s magic because, like, who would want to spend time with a random person? There’s so many people that say, oh my God, I love Abuela. And in the movie, it’s like, OK, but what did she do?

Dave: She’s like The Godfather. She’s like Don Vito Corleone. Everybody is trying to get an audience with her all the time.I don’t know what I should do about my bodega?” “Should I go to the Dominican Republic?” “Do you want to come with me, Abuela?” “Yeah, why not? I can put my feet in the sand and all that.” She does have, like you said, a demigod sort of vibe. She is the most important person in this community.

Joanna: And then once she dies, the vigil looks like a religious procession.

Dave: We don’t venerate older people in American society. Typically, we see them as a burden as opposed to a fountain of wisdom. And I think that’s really unfortunate because, boy, we could use some wisdom in our culture right now.

Jonah: I know, too, that they just found a lost George Romero movie from the ’70s called The Amusement Park, which is essentially about how elderly people are kind of tossed aside. It’s like a horror movie for old people where they’re just in this amusement park and it’s too much for them and it kind of escalates from there. But it is like a thing that’s been happening for a very long time and a culture that has become so youth-focused.

For a deep dive into In the Heights, or to hear our episodes on A Quiet Place Part II taking all the wrong lessons from John Carpenter, Cruella’s Disney-approved punk aspirations, Josie and the Pussycats as an anti-capitalist masterpiece, the animated soul of Star Wars, and the pro-wrestling soul of Mortal Kombat, check out the Galaxy Brains feed, wherever you get your podcasts.