Siempre, Luis on HBO—a new documentary about Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s non-stop father, Luis Miranda, which will debut tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT—gets the Hamilton creator back to politics (please!).
Despite writing a world-renowned musical about one, and despite being the son of one, Miranda has never been much of a politician himself. He’s supporting Joe Biden in the 2020 election and recently has been encouraging his Twitter followers to vote, but that’s about as far as the Hamilton composer wades into politics publicly. He was out his element, therefore, when he and his father brought his Broadway production to Puerto Rico with the intention of raising money for Hurricane Maria relief, and were met with protestors.
Essentially, Miranda did what he rarely does in an attempt to rebuild his father’s home after the devastating 2017 hurricane: He got involved. He met with President Obama and other lawmakers to advocate for the passing of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act—or PROMESA—which allowed Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy, but imposed unpopular austerity measures like closing public schools, cutting government labor benefits, and major budget cuts at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). That last thing was a particularly touchy subject for the Mirandas, who were trying to stage their Hamilton production at the UPR theater.
Directed by John James, Siempre, Luis is intended as a documentary about the life of Luis Miranda, who moved from Puerto Rico to New York City in the ’70s to pursue a graduate degree in psychology at New York University. He went on to become a prominent New York City politician, working as a top advisor for former mayor Ed Koch as the Head of Latino Affairs, as well as working on both Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaigns. But because the main present-day narrative is the elder Miranda’s involvement in bringing Hamilton to Puerto Rico, the film has no choice but to put that controversy front and center.
James was there filming when Miranda announced the production at UPR in 2017, and a group of student protestors marched on stage holding a sign that said, in Spanish, “Lin-Manuel, our lives are not your theater.” Eventually, they were ushered off stage, with the elder Miranda demanding that they listen to his son, and the protestors shouting back that both of them are traitors.
After the protestors were forced to leave, Miranda told the crowd at UPR he thought the protests were “good, and “part of the conversation,” but added, “I don’t have any outside agenda other than to make art and to make Puerto Rico proud.” He went on, in Spanish, “I’m not running for anything. I don’t want to be your governor, I don’t want to be your mayor. I want to make art.”
Later, in an interview for the documentary, Miranda tells the camera that the protestors had “valid points.”
“The formation of the PROMESA board basically asked for austerity, and most of the cuts came at the expense of the University of Puerto Rico,” Miranda says. “That was devastating because that was the education of a lot of kids, and I hate that, but I have to live with it.”
Both Mirandas walked back their support of PROMESA, but they were nevertheless told that if they went through with the Hamilton performance at UPR, that there would be protests from the union that represented workers at the university. We see Luis Miranda fretting as he runs around the island that all of his work will be for nothing—that the show might not happen at all.
“People can’t calibrate the appropriate response anymore,” Luis Miranda tells the camera, as he grows emotional over the controversy surrounding the show. “For many, the appropriate response has become, ‘Fuck you!’ because they have been stepped on.”
Two weeks before the opening night, the producers abruptly decided to switch venues to the Bellas Artes, the same theater where In the Heights had played in 2010. Though the documentary doesn’t mention this part, this was seen by many as an affirmation that Hamilton had aligned itself with the pro-statehood governor.
Still, the footage of the opening night feels like a message of unity and hope. Miranda quells a cheering crowd to bring his father on stage, who says, “Lin-Manuel always said, and I take that to heart, that it was not only to experience Hamilton in its artistic value, but also to leave Puerto Rico a little better than we found it.”
Watch Siempre, Luis on HBO
Watch Hamilton on Disney+