West Side Story 2021 is the Steven Spielberg remake of the 1961 movie based on the 1957 Broadway musical. The original film made Rita Moreno a star. For the remake, Spielberg made her an Executive Producer and Moreno also stars in a new role written just for her.
The Original Showed the Bias of the Era
The original, based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is a great story – even though it suffers from the biases of the era.
In particular “West Side Story” branded all Puerto Ricans as gangsters and loose women, neither of which is true. The original movie’s casting of Europeans as Puerto Ricans and using “brown face” are sickening now. The on screen rape of a Latina is particularly disgusting. We’ll see how the new creative team handles that.
The Immigrant Complaints are Still True
Sadly, many of the immigrant complaints of 1957 are still true in the USA today. We still, “want to live in America…”
We always wondered how the legendary Jewish creative team of Bernstein, Sondheim, and Robbins understood the Puerto Rican community so well.
They actually wrote the story in their own Jewish community and changed it to Puerto Ricans before production. It’s a universal story so it works no matter which cultures you cast.
There’s a lesson in this for Latin creatives. Stories of colonial complaints play well in Latin communities, but fall flat in the rest of the world. Universal stories with Latin flavor can be huge.
What Will Spielberg and Moreno Do with West Side Story 2021?
Spielberg is one of the great directors of our generation and Rita Moreno is one of the great Latin actresses of our generation.We hope they get it right, or at least better.
People are already complaining about the casting of a Polish Colombian actress Rachel Zegler as the Puerto Rican Maria. She is very talented and beautiful, but she is not Puerto Rican so we still have some progress to make.
The remake creative team did focus groups at University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras. Rio Piedras is, how do we say, a very young and opinionated place.
Everyone is curious to see how well Spielberg and Moreno update the story. Life is both good and bad. We think it’s important to be honest about the bad, celebrate the good, and keep moving forward together. That’s the American Way we were raised to believe in.
Anyway, people of different cultures loving each other is the greatest love story ever told.