Lin-Manuel Miranda has become a household name, which doesn’t happen very often to Broadway stars, even the biggest of Broadway.
Ever since making landfall with In the Heights, already revolutionary in 2008 with its rap style and a majority-Latino cast, Miranda has only soared upward with his work. After In the Heights came Hamilton, the rap musical he wrote and starred in about the founding fathers; after Hamilton came the soundtrack of Disney’s Moana, which he helped compose and sing (you can catch his voice in We Know the Way).
Since then, Miranda has landed a lead role in the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns and is working alongside Alan Menken on the score for the live-action Little Mermaid adaptation, as well as making his directorial debut with Tick, Tick…Boom!, the upcoming musical film about the life of Jonathan Larson.
He’s blazed a path across the entertainment industry, leaving a trail of countless awards (including a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Hamilton). But he has never lost sight of one of his most important ideals: fighting for more representation and for more parts for people of color.
“My answer is: authorial intent wins. Period,” Miranda said in an interview with Howard Sherman. “As a Dramatists Guild Council member, I will tell you this. As an artist and as a human I will tell you this. Authorial intent wins. Katori Hall never intended for a Caucasian Martin Luther King. That’s the end of the discussion. In every case, the intent of the author always wins. If the author has specified the ethnicity of the part, that wins.”
Miranda set In the Heights in a Latino neighborhood. He wrote Hamilton with the intention of casting non-white actors to portray white historical figures. And keeping the integrity of the author’s message is not exactly a priority of other art mediums, as Miranda is very well aware: “You go to Hollywood, you sell a script, they do whatever and your name is still on it. What we protect at the Dramatists Guild is the author’s power over their words and what happens with them. It’s very cut and dry.”
Moana made waves for featuring a Polynesian lead, along with her village and characters from Polynesian mythology. Disney created the Oceanic Story Trust to help research the film and make it culturally accurate. This followed Disney’s effort to become more culturally sensitive—the company has faced criticism for racism in its work, and Pacific Islanders especially haven’t been treated well with the little on-screen representation there is. The film’s commitment to honoring a culture historically misrepresented seems exactly like the kind of project that would attract Miranda. He thrived while working on the score and won a Grammy for the song “How Far I’ll Go.”
While Miranda is expanding into different projects, doubtlessly his commitment to honoring his culture and others will remain the same. Wherever he is, whether it's in a director’s chair or flying above Depression-era London with a magical nanny, we can expect to see something that will turn the way we think on its head.