'Siempre, Luis' Offers A Peek Into The Talented Miranda Family

Feb 2, 2020
Originally published on February 4, 2020 1:31 pm

The story of political player Luis Miranda and his famous son Lin-Manuel, who created and starred in Broadway musicals Hamilton and In the Heights, is the subject of a documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this past week and was just acquired by HBO. The film is called Siempre, Luis -- Miranda's sign off in his correspondences, and also a nod to his relentlessness in politics and as a champion for his talented son.

The documentary chronicles the elder Miranda's move from Puerto Rico to New York City in 1971, where he's spent four decades as a political consultant for the likes of Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton.

"You knew as a political leader: When Luis asked, people were going to listen," Schumer says in the film. In another scene, Clinton says to Miranda, "You have been going non-stop for so long, Luis. I mean, really."

Miranda started off organizing parents in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood, as he explains, "trying to gain consciousness of an immigrant population that was totally disenfranchised." He became special adviser on Hispanic Affairs for New York Mayor Ed Koch before founding the non-profit Hispanic Federation.

Luis Miranda was a key part in organizing relief efforts and bringing Hamilton to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Carlos García de Dios / Carlos García de Dios for York Square Pictures

"I just found so many aspects of his life cinematic," says first-time filmmaker John James, who began trailing his friend Luis Miranda with a camera three years ago. "He makes his name in politics, but he quickly transitions into entertainment because he's a family guy and he wants to support his son and make sure his son succeeds. And he gets involved in all of his son's initiatives."

Siempre, Luis is also the origin story of Lin-Manuel. The film includes footage from the 2008 Tony Awards, where Miranda picked up an award for his Broadway show In the Heights. And there's footage of Miranda at The White House the following year, previewing a song from Hamilton for President Obama. Lin-Manuel explains that Alexander Hamilton's relentlessness reminded him of his father, Luis. "With Hamilton," he says, "I was just playing my father."

After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, Miranda and his father raised money and awareness for relief efforts by bringing Hamilton to the island. Luis Miranda gives a tearful plea for Puerto Ricans as they withstand a year-long struggle to mount the production in San Juan. When the show finally is about to begin, we see Lin-Manuel backstage with Luis. "You're a great dad and you're a great man," he tells his dad. "Go save Puerto Rico."

At the Sundance Film Festival, actress and filmmaker Eva Longoria said she's impressed by the documentary about her friend Luis Miranda, and hopes it inspires other community leaders to be discovered. "He really is an unsung hero doing things behind the scenes," she said. "Luis would have made a difference in the world with or without having Lin-Manuel — but I'm glad he did produce such an amazing son."

"It's cool to ride shotgun for my dad, honestly," Lin-Manuel said on the red carpet of the film's world premiere. He said his father's political activism informed his art, including Hamilton and In the Heights (both soon to be feature films).

"My dad has spent his life helping other people and pushing causes he believes in, and people he believes in, into the spotlight," he said. "So it's nice to have my dad in the spotlight. He really enjoys it. You know, my dad's never wanted to run for office. He's been approached several times, and he always says, 'Well, I always want to be able to say whatever I want.' And you can't do that if you're in politics."

On the red carpet at Sundance, Luis Miranda did take the opportunity to speak his mind. "I hope that when people leave the theater, they ask themselves, am I doing enough to get rid of Trump? Am I doing enough to make sure that my family moves forward, that my kids are doing their best?"

The 65-year-old Miranda said after a lifetime of being behind the scenes, all the attention was new to him. "It's a narcissistic dream," he said with a wink.

After the premiere, Luis Miranda and his son, Lin-Manuel, went on to celebrate with their entire family at the Latinx House, a hub for filmmakers and film lovers. Side-by-side, the two Mirandas salsa danced the night away.

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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The Sundance Film Festival wraps up today. One documentary that premiered there and was just acquired by HBO features the life and career of political player Luis Miranda and his famous son, Lin Manuel, who created the Broadway musicals "Hamilton" and "In The Heights." NPR's Mandalit del Barco caught up with both of them at the festival.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: The documentary is called "Siempre, Luis" - always, Luis - Miranda's signoff in letters to his son, Lin-Manuel. In the film, the elder Miranda talks about moving from Puerto Rico to New York City in 1971. There, he spent four decades as a political consultant for the likes of Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SIEMPRE, LUIS")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And you knew as a political leader when Luis asked for something, people were going to listen.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You have been going nonstop. I mean, really.

DEL BARCO: Miranda started off organizing parents in the Heights - New York's Washington Heights.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LUIS MIRANDA: Trying to gain consciousness of an immigrant population that was totally disenfranchised.

DEL BARCO: Miranda was special adviser on Hispanic affairs for New York Mayor Ed Koch before founding the nonprofit Hispanic Federation.

JOHN JAMES: I just found so many aspects of his life cinematic.

DEL BARCO: First-time filmmaker John James began trailing his friend Luis Miranda with a camera three years ago.

JAMES: He makes his name in politics, but he quickly transitions into entertainment because he's a family guy. He wants to support his son. He wants to make sure his son succeeds.

DEL BARCO: "Siempre, Luis" charts the tireless Miranda guiding his son Lin-Manuel's career. After winning a Tony Award for his Broadway show "In The Heights," Lin-Manuel explains that his next show, "Hamilton," reminded him of his father, Luis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HAMILTON")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Aaron Burr, singing) This kid is insane, man.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: When I was playing him, I was just playing my father.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HAMILTON")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Aaron Burr, singing) Send him to the mainland. Get your education, don't forget from whence you came, and the world is going to know your name. What's your name, man?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HAMILTON")

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: (As Alexander Hamilton, singing) Alexander Hamilton.

DEL BARCO: After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, the Mirandas helped relief efforts by bringing "Hamilton" to the island.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SIEMPRE, LUIS")

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: You're a great dad, and you're a great man. Go save Puerto Rico.

LUIS MIRANDA: I - go and save Puerto Rico.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: Bye.

LUIS MIRANDA: Bye.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: Break a leg.

DEL BARCO: Actress and filmmaker Eva Longoria says she hopes the documentary inspires other community leaders to be discovered.

EVA LONGORIA: He really is an unsung hero doing things behind the scenes. And Luis would've made a difference in the world with or without having Lin-Manuel. But I'm glad he did produce such an amazing son (laughter).

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: It's cool to ride shotgun for my dad, honestly.

DEL BARCO: On the red carpet of the world premiere, Lin-Manuel says his father's political activism informed his own art.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: My dad has spent his life helping other people and pushing causes he believes in and people he believes in into the spotlight. And so it's nice to have my dad in the spotlight. He really enjoys it. You know, my dad's never wanted to run for office. And he's been approached several times, and he always says, well, I always want to be able to say whatever I want, and you can't do that if you're in politics.

DEL BARCO: Luis Miranda did take the opportunity on the red carpet at Sundance.

LUIS MIRANDA: I hope that when people leave the theater, they ask themselves, am I doing enough to get rid of Trump? Am I doing enough to make sure that my family moves forward, that my kids are doing their best?

DEL BARCO: Standing next to his son, the 65-year-old Miranda said all the attention was new to him.

LUIS MIRANDA: It's a narcissistic's dream.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: I told you.

DEL BARCO: After the premiere, Luis Miranda and his son, Lin-Manuel, went on to celebrate with their entire family at the Latinx House, a hub for filmmakers and film lovers. Side by side, the two Mirandas salsa danced the night away.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOE ARROYO Y LA VERDAD'S "REBELION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.