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The previous ‘West Side Story’ obtained half the story improper. Spielberg’s new movie tries to make it proper


The authentic 1961 movie received 10 Oscars, together with Best Picture. But for many years this retelling of “Romeo and Juliet” by means of the lens of White and Puerto Rican gangs in New York has been panned by Puerto Ricans who felt insulted by the way in which characters from the island have been portrayed.

The songs are largely the identical, however the story is totally different in a number of notable methods — particularly in terms of the film’s Puerto Rican characters.

Here’s a take a look at how the brand new “West Side Story” responds to a number of the missteps of the unique movie.

How Spielberg tried to resolve the issue of Maria

Natalie Wood performed Maria within the 1961 movie, with Marni Nixon’s voice dubbed in for all of the heroine’s songs. Neither considered one of them was Puerto Rican, and even Latina; many of the film’s solid wasn’t, both.

Spielberg’s model casts Colombian American Rachel Zegler as Maria. And all the opposite Puerto Rican characters are performed by Latino actors, too.
“It’s so essential for individuals like us to see individuals like us onscreen,” Zegler said in a recent “20/20” special on the film, “to see individuals like us singing ‘I Feel Pretty,’ to see individuals like us falling in love and feeling pleasure and dancing round in fairly clothes. It’s so essential for that subsequent technology to see somebody that appears like them.”

Zegler’s been getting rave evaluations for her efficiency. Still, not everyone seems to be offered on the casting selection.

“I’ve a difficulty with Hollywood as soon as once more fumbling the best of alternatives to raise a Puerto Rican actress. They appear to assume that so long as the actors are Hispanic, that is sufficient,” Daily Beast Assistant Managing Editor Mandy Velez wrote in a current column. “Except it is not, to me or to different Puerto Ricans so thirsty to see themselves represented on display screen they could collapse from dehydration.”

There’s nobody carrying brownface on this film

In the unique “West Side Story,” lots of the actors taking part in Puerto Rican characters have been compelled to put on the identical darkish brown make-up — even Rita Moreno, who’s Puerto Rican and performed the character of Anita.

“I keep in mind saying to the make-up man sooner or later ― as a result of it was like placing mud on my face, it was actually darkish and I’m a reasonably truthful Hispanic ― and I mentioned to the make-up man sooner or later ‘My God! Why can we all should be the identical shade?” Moreno informed Futuro Media’s “In the Thick” podcast in 2017. “Puerto Ricans are French and Spanish…’ And it is true, we’re very many various colours, we’re Taino indian, we’re Black a few of us.”

When she raised that time on set, Moreno mentioned she obtained a shocking response.

“The make-up man really mentioned to me, ‘What? Are you a racist?’ I used to be so flabbergasted that I could not come again with a solution.”

In the original "West Side Story" movie, Rita Moreno and other actors were forced to wear brownface. In Spielberg's version, Moreno is back in a new role, without the offensive makeup.

Thankfully, nobody within the 2021 movie is carrying brownface. A various solid of actors are taking part in Puerto Rican characters, together with Ariana DeBose, who’s Afro-Latina and performs Anita.

And this time round, Moreno’s observations weren’t dismissed. She performs a brand new character written for this model, Valentina. She was an government producer of the film. And she frequently spoke with the solid about what it was like rising up as a Puerto Rican in America.

“She introduced so many attention-grabbing tales, and she or he so motivated the solid,” Spielberg says in a promotional video for the movie. “And I assumed she actually wanted to be the manager producer, extra of a managerial function, not simply to return in as an actor, however to actually assist us body the messages that ‘West Side Story’ wants to increase to individuals who see it. She’s been very, very causal in all of that.”

The phrases to an iconic track have modified

For many followers, “America” is likely one of the most beloved and well-known songs from “West Side Story.” The rousing dance quantity can also be a searing debate between Anita and her boyfriend Bernardo over the prices and advantages of migration to the US mainland.

But lots of the lyrics sung by Anita painted Puerto Rico in a destructive mild, in each the 1957 musical (“island of tropical ailments”) and the 1961 film (“let it sink again within the ocean”).

That drew criticism when Spielberg and Kushner traveled to the University of Puerto Rico in 2018 to fulfill with college students and college for enter whereas they have been making the brand new film.

In the 1961 film, Rita Moreno's Anita sang that she wanted Puerto Rico to "sink back in the ocean." In the new movie, Ariana DeBose's Anita isn't as hostile toward Puerto Rico in the version of the song she sings.
There, a professor of theater historical past and performing identified the track’s problematic lyrics as she questioned how Spielberg and Kushner deliberate to characterize Puerto Ricans within the movie. Kushner informed the viewers that the White, Jewish crew behind the unique story probably assumed the migration expertise for Puerto Ricans was the identical because it had been for his or her ancestors, who regarded on the Old Country with disdain.
The professor who’d raised considerations later informed The Hollywood Reporter that it would not make sense for a Puerto Rican character to be talking so disparagingly of the island, when most individuals migrate out of financial necessity and desperation.

“No one leaves this island with out sobbing,” Isel Rodriguez mentioned. “Three hundred thousand individuals left the island after Maria and the scene on the airport was like a funeral.”

In the top, Spielberg’s model of “America” cuts the track’s most controversial strains. There’s nobody wishing an island the place thousands and thousands of individuals stay ought to sink into the ocean.

By paring down the lyrics, the brand new model sharpens the main target of the track to the talk over whether or not life on the US mainland is sweet or unhealthy for Puerto Ricans, relatively than dragging Puerto Rico and its individuals by means of the mud.

The Sharks lastly get backstories

Broadway composer and lyricist Lin Manuel-Miranda, whose mother and father moved to New York from Puerto Rico, has mentioned that for Latinos, “West Side Story” has been “our best blessing and our best curse.”

“As a chunk of artwork, I feel it is nearly nearly as good because it will get,” Miranda informed The Washington Post in 2009. “It additionally represented our foot within the door as a creative group on Broadway. … At the identical time, as a result of it is nearly the one illustration of Latinos on Broadway and it is about gangs, that is the place it will get tough.”

In the unique film, the Caucasian Jets additionally get much more display screen time than the Sharks, their Puerto Rican rivals. In this model, the Sharks are nonetheless gang members, however we lastly get an opportunity to study extra about a few of them.

Little was written about George Chakiris' Bernardo and the rest of the Sharks' lives in the 1961 film. In the 2021 remake, David Alvarez's Bernardo is a boxer, and more details are included about some of the movie's other Puerto Rican characters.

Tony Kushner’s screenplay creates again tales for Puerto Rican characters that within the authentic have been two-dimensional at greatest, and stereotypical at worst.

In the 2021 movie, Chino goes to high school to be an accountant. Bernardo is a boxer who got here to New York extra just lately. Anita is a seamstress who’s saving cash as a result of she needs to open her personal costume store sometime. Maria and her buddies work on a cleansing crew at Gimbels division retailer.

Valentina, the brand new character written for this film, is a widow working her retailer and attempting to navigate life between two cultures. And everybody who lives of their neighborhood — Sharks and Jets alike — is about to get evicted so wrecking balls can tear down their houses to make means for the development of Lincoln Center.

Spanish is spoken way more — and with a Puerto Rican accent

A number of Spanish phrases have been sprinkled into the unique “West Side Story” — usually delivered with accents that sounded extra like Americans overacting than the way in which Puerto Ricans dwelling in New York really communicate.

The Spanish in Spielberg’s movie is delivered with trademark Puerto Rican phrases and accents. It’s spoken — with none subtitles — in intimate scenes like conversations between Maria and Anita at dwelling.

In the 2021 version of "West Side Story," Maria and Anita speak Spanish in some of their most intimate conversations, like the scene where Anita is fitting Maria's new dress.

And the one time it sounds stilted is smart within the story — when non-native audio system like Tony, Maria’s Polish-American love curiosity, try to say one thing in Spanish.

In reality, the very first track with lyrics that we hear within the remake is sung in Spanish. It’s the Sharks’ model of the Puerto Rican anthem “La Borinqueña,” carried out after police organize them to go away a criminal offense scene. And it wasn’t within the authentic.

The crew behind this film tried to do their homework

Originally, the plot of “West Side Story” was conceived to give attention to tensions between Jews and Catholics on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
After they shifted gears to make Puerto Ricans one of many rival gangs, it is clear the musical’s creators did little to analysis the Puerto Rican expertise. Stephen Sondheim even admitted that he had by no means even met a Puerto Rican when he took on the project.
Director Steven Spielberg and Rita Moreno as Valentina on the set of 20th Century Studios' "West Side Story."

Spielberg and Kushner took a distinct tack, spending time researching Puerto Rican communities that lived in New York in 1957, when the musical is ready. The go to to the University of Puerto Rico was considered one of many conversations.

Kushner has mentioned the crew behind the movie additionally met with historical past consultants and labored with native audio system — together with dancers and actors within the solid — to ensure the Spanish phrases have been written and used accurately.

“We stored engaged on this factor, as a result of there was such an unlimited feeling that — it wasn’t like, ‘Oh god, we will get canceled if any individual says the improper phrase’ — however this deep want to get it proper and true,” Kushner informed TIME this week.
So far that spotlight to element and the adjustments to the plot appear to be profitable over critics, who’ve responded enthusiastically to the remake.

But the jury’s nonetheless out on whether or not that can persuade Puerto Ricans who have been uncomfortable with — or outraged by — the unique film to provide this “West Side Story” an opportunity.



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