Long before his son, Lin Manuel Miranda, became a household name, his father Luis was consulting and working with other household names like Pelosi, Clinton and Shumer– that’s just a sliver of the resume of the subject of the new film, ‘Siempre, Luis.”
On today’s Indy Style, Tracy chats with Luis Miranda and Director John James about this new bio-pic about Luis’ life.
MOVIE AIRS NATIONWIDE ON HBO AND HBO MAX OCTOBER 6 2020
When Luis A. Miranda Jr. left Puerto Rico for New York City in the 1970s, he had big dreams—but little did he know how far he’d go. Over the course of an intense year, Luis Miranda’s devotion to family and country propel him forward despite recent health issues. He finds that there is always more to do, especially when his beloved Puerto Rico is in need. Following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, he helps plan relief efforts and, to raise money and awareness, manages the logistics behind bringing his son Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning production of Hamilton to the island. With humor and a lot of heart, Siempre, Luis tells the story of a unique and proud American.
“Luis Miranda cannot help but become powerfully attached to whoever comes into his life,” Luz Towns, Miranda’s wife, once told me. The converse, it turns out, is also true. Whoever approaches Luis Miranda can’t help getting pulled into orbit around him by the irresistible force of his personality.
I met Luis in 2008, when he shared office space with the political consultancy I was working for in Union Square. Luis ran campaigns for elected officials. I suppose he might stand out: a Puerto Rican who donned turtlenecks under perfectly pressed, citrus-colored guayaberas in defiance of bitter New York winters. He was as driven as anyone I had ever met, and when Luis discovered I was also Puerto Rican, a bond formed.
I learned that he was from Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, a small town not unlike Moca, where my mother was born and raised and where I spent some summers of my childhood. How could one start here and end up shuttling down the corridors of Northeastern power? Luis became a teacher and a confidante. We shared clients. I took in the stories about his early campaign work, like the David-versus-Goliath race to get Senator Chuck Schumer elected against the king of ‘pothole politics,’ Senator Alfonse D’Amato. Later, a choice role in Hillary Clinton’s successful run for the New York State Senate would launch Luis’ career. At the time when we met, Luis might begin his day with phone calls to Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, and end it waiting patiently on the pick-up line to retrieve his adopted son Miguel from high school on the other side of town.
I would run into his son Lin-Manuel gliding through the hallways of our office, held aloft by ideas that he would bounce off his father day the workday. When Lin-Manuel was nominated for a Tony Award for ‘In the Heights’, Luis didn’t drift into entertainment; he barreled his way in. “All I could think about during the show was the parking meter expiring,” Luis told me the next time we saw each other. When Luis relayed the experience to me, and his instructions to his sister Yamilla before the show to act as if the Tonys were a normal occurrence, even threatening her if she was ever to ‘leave character’ during the affair, I was sold. This story and others like it – how a humble migrant processes the foamy atmosphere of show business and success – needed to be shared.
Luis suffered a heart attack in 2016. The ebullient island transplant was now quick-to-anger and obsessed with time. I asked Luis if I could follow him with a camera. He agreed. Over nearly three years I watched him bear witness to an unprecedented political apathy in the face of the deadliest natural disaster to strike Puerto Rico and become an advocate for a Puerto Rican diaspora reeling in its aftermath. He grappled with a growing, national xenophobia that threatened his son’s vision of a more inclusive Union and, without missing a beat, he brought an inspiring production of Hamilton to his island home in just twelve months, all while remaining a committed parent who refused to outsource the around-the-clock obligations that define fatherhood. Luis Miranda pushed the limits of his health making every moment count. My first film is a movie about Luis Miranda, a selfless and tireless migrant from Puerto Rico; it is also about my mother, my father, and my abuelo, and the island my family is from that I never really knew until now. Like many filmmakers, my first film is about what I love.
Luis A. Miranda Jr. is the founding partner of The MirRam Group, a government affairs, lobbying and political consulting firm in New York City. He has previously served in three New York City mayoral administrations, is the founding President of the Hispanic Federation, and past chairman of the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation. He is the board chair of the Latino Victory Fund and the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, as well as a board member of The Public Theater, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, NYC & Company, and the nonprofit The City. Mr. Miranda chairs the advisory boards to Broadway League’s Viva Broadway, and the Caribbean and Latin American Studies Department at the CUNY Graduate Center. Following the destruction of Hurricane Maria in September 2017, Miranda and his family have supported the relief efforts in Puerto Rico. They have actively fundraised for the Hispanic Federation’s UNIDOS for Puerto Rico program, raising over $43M to date for community organizations throughout the island. In honor of HAMILTON’s historic run in Puerto Rico in 2019, the Miranda family, the producers of HAMILTON, and the Flamboyan Foundation have partnered to create the Flamboyan Arts Fund, with the goal of raising $15 million dollars for arts and culture on the island. Mr. Miranda earned his BA degree from the University of Puerto Rico and pursued graduate work in psychology at New York University. He and his wife Dr. Luz Towns-Miranda have been married for 41 years and have two adult children, Luz Miranda-Crespo and Lin-Manuel Miranda. They reside in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights/Inwood.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Pulitzer Prize, Grammy, Emmy and Tony award-winning composer, lyricist and actor. He is the creator and original star of Broadway’s Tony-winning Hamilton and In the Heights. His additional Broadway credits include Bring It On: The Musical (co-composer/co-lyricist, Tony nomination for Best Musical), and West Side Story (2009 revival, Spanish translations). Miranda is the recipient of the 2015 MacArthur Foundation Award and the 2018 Kennedy Center Honors. He received an Emmy Award with Tom Kitt for their song, “Bigger” from the 67th Annual Tony Awards. His TV/Film credits include Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Curb Your Enthusiasm (2018 Emmy Nomination, Guest Actor), Saturday Night Live (2017 Emmy Nomination, Guest Actor), Sesame Street, The Electric Company, House, DuckTales, 200 Cartas, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Moana (2017 Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, Grammy Award for Best Original Song) and Mary Poppins Returns (2019 Golden Globe Nomination, Best Actor).
John James (Director/Producer/Writer) is a film producer and director. He produced a series of landmark TV ads for the City of New York supporting Mayor Bloomberg’s ambitious anti-smoking legislation, and later produced and directed ads for political candidates seeking office, advocacy organizations and private companies. He runs the creative agency, Particle, with his wife, the designer Maria Elena Ibarra-James. The couple have two children and live in Montclair, New Jersey. Born in Brooklyn to an Irish Father and a Puerto Rican mother, he studied politics at Yale and Columbia University. “Siempre, Luis,” a 2020 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection, is his first feature film.