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Trouble in the Heights: A new film with a new perspective

Emil Baez

Trouble in the Heights is a low-budget, independent film set and filmed  in the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights.  “It begins one night under the great expanse of the George Washington Bridge. Young Javy and his friend Robbie are two adolescents growing up in the predominantly Dominican neighborhood of New York’s Washington Heights.   The boys have no idea what lies ahead when they bury a trash bag stuffed with drug money under the bridge. What is set in motion is the story of two brothers, Javy and his older brother, Diego, and the thugs who want their money back.   A mild-mannered prep cook, older brother and de facto parent, Diego must look danger in the face to protect his small, but growing family, from a merciless drug kingpin seeking revenge.  As fate looms and day becomes night, Diego turns to an old neighborhood friend with shady connections to help him out of this perilous mess.  The events of the night ultimately lead him to the decision that will change more lives than just his own.” (Trouble in the Heights Media Kit)

The true worth of the film lies outside the fast-moving action scenes .  It lies in the larger message of the film as outlined by its lead actor, Rayniel Rufino(Diego), in a phone interview I had recently with him.  The 26 year old Actor/Writer/Rapper offered these unique insights into the bigger picture presented by the film:  “While the movie hints at the violent past of Washington Heights, it is foremost a story about doing what is right and fighting for what is right; it is about individuals taking control of their lives and molding their environment to be what they want, not letting their environment mold them into what they are not.”

Both Rayniel and the film’s Director/Producer/Writer, Jonathan Ullman, wanted to present a picture of Washington Heights that shows it has grown beyond its less-than-stellar reputation of the past.  They wanted to show the vibrancy and richness of Dominican culture that makes up the neighborhood.  Rayniel experienced this richness growing up in the area, and Jonathan has discovered it in the time he has been a resident in the Heights over the past five years.  Both talk about the ‘small town’ character of the area where everyone knows everyone and greets each other in a way that most of America would associate with its own idyllic Mayberry-ish history.  “I walk down my street every day and continuously meet and greet people I’ve met in the past few years living here,”  Ullman said.  “I feel safer walking the streets here, day or night, than when I lived in lower Manhattan.”

This portrayal of everyday life in Washington Heights is a key part of the story of Diego and his younger brother.  The dreams, hopes and life of everyday people and families in Washington Heights are played out against the background of the action story of found drug money and the remnants of the  neighborhood’s ‘old guard’ of thugs and drug dealers.   It is a movie about family, love and commitment that transcends the predominantly Dominican culture of the area and would hit home with every moviegoer.

Trouble in the Heights is currently available on VOD, iTunes, Amazon, Redbox, Blockbuster, and Vudu and will be available on DVD at Walmart and other locations starting in May 2013. 


By Being Latino Contributor, Jeffery Cassity. Jeffery is a mostly socially-liberal, fiscally-conservative Anglo male who is involved in his local Hispanic community as the widower of a 1st generation Mexican-American woman and his active, some would say hyperactive, membership in the local Council of the League of Latin American Citizens(LULAC). 

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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