Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It, Mariem Pérez Riera’s 2021 documentary on the Puerto Rican star’s life and career, is at at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens on Sun, Nov 28 at 6pm. $15. 🇵🇷
The film opened in the USA on June 18, 2021 and screened on American Masters on PBS Thirteen on Tue, Oct 5, 2021 at 9pm.
From Humacao to Hollywood
Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico on December 11, 1931. She is not a typical actress in any dimension. Humacao is on Puerto Rico’s east coast. It has beautiful beaches, great musicians, and a nice river with Taíno petroglyphs, but is real countryside.
It’s very unlikely that a country girl would go on to win the big four American entertainment awards: an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. Furthermore, only Rita Moreno and Helen Hayes have won Academy, Emmy and Tony awards for acting. She has also been recognized with America’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and more.
It Wasn’t Easy
Being a movie star seems so glamorous and easy, but it isn’t. It’s hard enough being Latin today where people see you as an “other,” not as a fellow American. (Puerto Ricans have been American citizens for over a century). It’s also harder for women because you have to navigate a world controlled by the appetites of men.
But she made it and made it big. Moreno began working in entertainment doing Spanish-language voice overs for American films as a teenager. She got noticed and played small Hollywood roles in the 1950s.
In that era, we were always cast as bad people. She had to put up with that. One of her favorite roles from the time was Tuptim, the Burmese runaway slave in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I.” Did you know that was her?
Being a star is never easy and being a Latina in that era was harder. There were times when Moreno lost it (like everyone does), but she always pulled herself back together like a champion.
West Side Story Changed Everything and Nothing
Moreno played Anita, the “wild” girl in the movie adaptation of Broadway’s “West Side Story.” She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1961.
“West Side Story” is controversial in the Puerto Rican community because it gave America the false impression that we are all gang members, and in the style of the era, it used White actors for Latins and Brown Face. Wow!
The play and movie’s incredible Jewish creative team originally wrote the story in the Jewish community. They changed it before production to Puerto Ricans. It’s “Romeo and Juliet,” a universal story, so it works in any community.
After winning the Academy Award, Moreno thought she would get better roles, but it was samo… In 2021, it’s easy to forget how hard it was for Latins and women back in the day.
Everyone’s story has both successes and failures. Nobody succeeds without both. But heroes recover from their failures and keep on going. That’s what makes them heroes. That is Rita Moreno.
There is Hope
In the 1970s, Moreno worked in children’s television on The Electric Company and The Muppet Show for which she won an Emmy Award.
She did lots of television in the 1980s and voiced Carmen Sandiego in the cartoon series. More recently, we know her work in Netflix sitcom “One Day at a Time,” the remake of the Norman Lear series set in a Cuban American family.
Executive Producer of the New West Side Story
Steven Spielberg is doing a version “West Side Story” which will release on December 10, 2021. Moreno stars in it and is an Executive Producer. They created a new role for her Valentina.
We don’t know how the story goes, but in Latin theatre, “Valentina” is usually a strong woman character. Again that is Rita Moreno.
¿Y Tú Que? (What About You?)
Rita Moreno decided to go for it. We are in a special period now when Latin and Black artists are getting more chances to show our stuff.
Watch Moreno’s story and be inspired. Then all you have to do is decide to go for it. You don’t have to be anybody else. You just have to be yourself and never stop doing that. ¡WEPA! 🇵🇷