Voices for Change is PEOPLE's editorial series committed to elevating and amplifying the stores of celebrities and everyday people alike who are dedicated to making change and uplifting others in the fight for racial justice, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, climate action and more  

By People Staff
May 24, 2021 09:00 AM
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Gregory Diaz IV
Credit: Michael Hull

Gregory Diaz IV, previously seen in Netflix's Vampires in the Bronx, is set to steal the screen in In the Heights, the long-awaited adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit Broadway show. His character Sonny gets a modernized storyline from screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes, as a DREAMer fighting for legal status. The role is the latest in which the 16-year-old plays a Latino character in a movie full of a who's who in Latino entertainment. Below, Diaz shares what it's like to take on such an important role — and how he hopes In the Heights changes Hollywood for the better.

I immediately fell in love with In the Heights when I first found it, because the music sounds so much like what I was hearing every day out in the world. I kind of took it upon myself from there to do more research, and that's when I found out that it was pretty much just a story about me, and my neighborhood.

My great-grandparents were actually born in Puerto Rico and they came to New York around the late '50s, early '60s. Then both my grandparents and my parents were born in New York, so I'm a third generation Nuyorican. Finding out what the story really was, it was just an immediate connection between Lin's story and my own story that I had growing up.

Gregory Diaz IV
Credit: Courtesy Diaz Family

Then I got a FaceTime from Lin offering me the role. After I finished reading the script and I saw that Sonny was a DREAMer, I kind of sat back and thought about it, and I was like, "Wow, this is something really important that [they're] taking on." I had a talk with Quiara about it and how we wanted to make it a part of Sonny, but not something that defined him.

Being a DREAMer, that's not his only thing. Sonny is this excited, smart, street smart, upbeat kid that who loves his community. I hope that my role as Sonny just helps convey to DREAMers that they do belong, and that they do deserve to feel that way. Although you may be a DREAMer, again, that doesn't define who you truly are.

I've been extremely, extremely fortunate in my young career. I've been able to play roles that have represented my heritage and culture in such a positive sense. As an actor, I'd love to continue to grow in my career and be a part of more of those meaningful stories that'll break down even more barriers, and then hopefully pave the way for those who come after me.

I hope this movie helps promote more representation in Hollywood. I remember when I first found out about In the Heights, I was just a little kid and I was excited to see a story about myself. It wasn't until really when the film came, and I was older, that I realized just how much of the story really holds to it, and how important it can be to other people.

I would love to continue to see an increase in diversity and just overall more diverse stories being told on the big screen. I want to see more diversity in writers, directors, leading roles, producers, executive producers — all of the above.

I think stories like Sonny's and the rest of the characters' is what makes the film so great. There's honestly something for everyone. But there's also these big fun numbers that everyone can get up and jam to, which I hope people do. I want to go into a theater and just see a bunch of people dancing.