The old 'West Side Story' got half the story wrong. Spielberg's new film tries to make it right

8 months ago 130
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(CNN)The "West Side Story" successful theaters present isn't the movie you've seen earlier -- and that's a bully thing.

The archetypal 1961 movie won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. But for decades this retelling of "Romeo and Juliet" done the lens of White and Puerto Rican gangs successful New York has been panned by Puerto Ricans who felt insulted by the mode characters from the land were portrayed.

    Spielberg vowed not to bash that. And it's wide helium and his squad took past criticisms into relationship arsenic they shaped their version. Award-winning playwright Tony Kushner importantly rewrote overmuch of the screenplay, utilizing Arthur Laurents' publication for the 1957 Broadway amusement arsenic a jumping-off point.

      The songs are mostly the same, but the communicative is antithetic successful respective notable ways -- particularly erstwhile it comes to the movie's Puerto Rican characters.

      Here's a look astatine however the caller "West Side Story" responds to immoderate of the missteps of the archetypal film.

      How Spielberg tried to lick the occupation of Maria

      Natalie Wood played Maria successful the 1961 film, with Marni Nixon's dependable dubbed successful for each the heroine's songs. Neither 1 of them was Puerto Rican, oregon adjacent Latina; astir of the movie's formed wasn't, either.

      Spielberg's mentation casts Colombian American Rachel Zegler arsenic Maria. And each the different Puerto Rican characters are played by Latino actors, too.

      "It's truthful important for radical similar america to spot radical similar america onscreen," Zegler said successful a caller "20/20" peculiar connected the film, "to spot radical similar america singing 'I Feel Pretty,' to spot radical similar america falling successful emotion and feeling joyousness and dancing astir successful beauteous dresses. It's truthful important for that adjacent procreation to spot idiosyncratic that looks similar them."

      Natalie Wood, left, played Maria successful  the archetypal   movie  of "West Side Story." Rachel Zegler, right, plays her successful  the caller   movie.

      Zegler's been getting rave reviews for her performance. Still, not everyone is sold connected the casting choice.

      "I person an contented with Hollywood erstwhile again fumbling the easiest of opportunities to elevate a Puerto Rican actress. They look to deliberation that arsenic agelong arsenic the actors are Hispanic, that's enough," Daily Beast Assistant Managing Editor Mandy Velez wrote successful a caller column. "Except it's not, to maine oregon to different Puerto Ricans truthful thirsty to spot themselves represented connected surface they mightiness illness from dehydration."

      There's nary 1 wearing brownface successful this movie

      In the archetypal "West Side Story," galore of the actors playing Puerto Rican characters were forced to deterioration the aforesaid acheronian brownish constitution -- adjacent Rita Moreno, who is Puerto Rican and played the quality of Anita.

      "I retrieve saying to the constitution antheral 1 time ― due to the fact that it was similar putting mud connected my face, it was truly acheronian and I'm a reasonably just Hispanic ― and I said to the constitution antheral 1 time 'My God! Why bash we each person to beryllium the aforesaid color?" Moreno told Futuro Media's "In the Thick" podcast successful 2017. "Puerto Ricans are French and Spanish...' And it's true, we are precise galore antithetic colors, we're Taino indian, we are Black immoderate of us."

      When she raised that constituent connected set, Moreno said she got a astonishing response.

      "The constitution antheral really said to me, 'What? Are you a racist?' I was truthful flabbergasted that I couldn't travel backmost with an answer."

      In the archetypal   "West Side Story" movie, Rita Moreno and different   actors were forced to deterioration  brownface. In Spielberg's version, Moreno is backmost  successful  a caller   role, without the violative  makeup.

      Thankfully, nary 1 successful the 2021 movie is wearing brownface. A divers formed of actors are playing Puerto Rican characters, including Ariana DeBose, who's Afro-Latina and plays Anita.

      And this clip around, Moreno's observations weren't dismissed. She plays a caller quality written for this version, Valentina. She was an enforcement shaper of the movie. And she regularly spoke with the formed astir what it was similar increasing up arsenic a Puerto Rican successful America.

      "She brought truthful galore absorbing stories, and she truthful motivated the cast," Spielberg says successful a promotional video for the film. "And I thought she truly needed to beryllium the enforcement producer, much of a managerial role, not conscionable to travel successful arsenic an actor, but to truly assistance america framework the messages that 'West Side Story' needs to widen to radical who spot it. She's been very, precise causal successful each of that."

      The words to an iconic opus person changed

      For galore fans, "America" is 1 of the astir beloved and well-known songs from "West Side Story." The rousing creation fig is besides a searing statement betwixt Anita and her fellow Bernardo implicit the costs and benefits of migration to the US mainland.

      But galore of the lyrics sung by Anita painted Puerto Rico successful a antagonistic light, successful some the 1957 philharmonic ("island of tropical diseases") and the 1961 movie ("let it descend backmost successful the ocean").

      That drew disapproval erstwhile Spielberg and Kushner traveled to the University of Puerto Rico successful 2018 to conscionable with students and module for input portion they were making the caller movie.

      In the 1961 film, Rita Moreno's Anita sang that she wanted Puerto Rico to "sink backmost  successful  the ocean." In the caller   movie, Ariana DeBose's Anita isn't arsenic  hostile toward Puerto Rico successful  the mentation    of the opus  she sings.

      There, a prof of theatre past and acting pointed retired the song's problematic lyrics arsenic she questioned however Spielberg and Kushner planned to correspond Puerto Ricans successful the film. Kushner told the assemblage that the White, Jewish squad down the archetypal communicative apt assumed the migration acquisition for Puerto Ricans was the aforesaid arsenic it had been for their ancestors, who looked connected the Old Country with disdain.

      The prof who'd raised concerns aboriginal told The Hollywood Reporter that it doesn't marque consciousness for a Puerto Rican quality to beryllium speaking truthful disparagingly of the island, erstwhile astir radical migrate retired of economical necessity and desperation.

      "No 1 leaves this land without sobbing," Isel Rodriguez said. "Three 100 1000 radical near the land aft Maria and the country astatine the airdrome was similar a funeral."

      In the end, Spielberg's mentation of "America" cuts the song's astir arguable lines. There's nary 1 wishing an land wherever millions of radical unrecorded should descend into the ocean.

      By paring down the lyrics, the caller mentation sharpens the absorption of the opus to the statement implicit whether beingness connected the US mainland is bully oregon atrocious for Puerto Ricans, alternatively than dragging Puerto Rico and its radical done the mud.

      The Sharks yet get backstories

      Broadway composer and lyricist Lin Manuel-Miranda, whose parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico, has said that for Latinos, "West Side Story" has been "our top blessing and our top curse."

      "As a portion of art, I deliberation it's conscionable astir arsenic bully arsenic it gets," Miranda told The Washington Post successful 2009. "It besides represented our ft successful the doorway arsenic an creator assemblage connected Broadway. ... At the aforesaid time, due to the fact that it's conscionable astir the lone practice of Latinos connected Broadway and it's astir gangs, that's wherever it gets tricky."

      In the archetypal movie, the Caucasian Jets besides get a batch much surface clip than the Sharks, their Puerto Rican rivals. In this version, the Sharks are inactive pack members, but we yet get a accidental to larn much astir immoderate of them.

      Little was written astir  George Chakiris' Bernardo and the remainder  of the Sharks' lives successful  the 1961 film. In the 2021 remake, David Alvarez's Bernardo is simply a boxer, and much  details are included astir  immoderate   of the movie's different   Puerto Rican characters.

      Tony Kushner's screenplay creates backmost stories for Puerto Rican characters that successful the archetypal were two-dimensional astatine best, and stereotypical astatine worst.

      In the 2021 film, Chino is going to schoolhouse to beryllium an accountant. Bernardo is simply a boxer who came to New York much recently. Anita is simply a seamstress who's redeeming wealth due to the fact that she wants to unfastened her ain formal store someday. Maria and her friends enactment connected a cleaning unit astatine Gimbels section store.

      Valentina, the caller quality written for this movie, is simply a widow moving her store and trying to navigate beingness betwixt 2 cultures. And everyone who lives successful their vicinity -- Sharks and Jets alike -- is astir to get evicted truthful wrecking balls tin teardrop down their homes to marque mode for the operation of Lincoln Center.

      Spanish is spoken overmuch much -- and with a Puerto Rican accent

      A fewer Spanish phrases were sprinkled into the archetypal "West Side Story" -- often delivered with accents that sounded much similar Americans overacting than the mode Puerto Ricans surviving successful New York really speak.

      The Spanish successful Spielberg's movie is delivered with trademark Puerto Rican phrases and accents. It's spoken -- without immoderate subtitles -- successful intimate scenes similar conversations betwixt Maria and Anita astatine home.

      In the 2021 mentation    of "West Side Story," Maria and Anita talk  Spanish successful  immoderate   of their astir   intimate conversations, similar  the country   wherever  Anita is fitting Maria's caller   dress.

      And the lone clip it sounds stilted makes consciousness successful the communicative -- erstwhile non-native speakers similar Tony, Maria's Polish-American emotion interest, are trying to accidental thing successful Spanish.

      In fact, the precise archetypal opus with lyrics that we perceive successful the remake is sung successful Spanish. It's the Sharks' mentation of the Puerto Rican anthem "La Borinqueña," performed aft constabulary bid them to permission a transgression scene. And it wasn't successful the original.

      The squad down this movie tried to bash their homework

      After they shifted gears to marque Puerto Ricans 1 of the rival gangs, it's wide the musical's creators did small to probe the Puerto Rican experience. Stephen Sondheim even admitted that helium had ne'er adjacent met a Puerto Rican erstwhile helium took connected the assignment.

      Director Steven Spielberg and Rita Moreno arsenic  Valentina connected  the acceptable   of 20th Century Studios' "West Side Story."

      Spielberg and Kushner took a antithetic tack, spending clip researching Puerto Rican communities that lived successful New York successful 1957, erstwhile the philharmonic is set. The sojourn to the University of Puerto Rico was 1 of galore conversations.

      Kushner has said the squad down the movie besides met with past experts and worked with autochthonal speakers -- including dancers and actors successful the formed -- to marque definite the Spanish phrases were written and utilized correctly.

      "We kept moving connected this thing, due to the fact that determination was specified an tremendous feeling that — it wasn't like, 'Oh god, we're going to get canceled if idiosyncratic says the incorrect word' — but this heavy tendency to get it close and true," Kushner told TIME this week.

        So acold that attraction to item and the changes to the crippled look to beryllium winning implicit critics, who've responded enthusiastically to the remake.

        But the jury's inactive retired connected whether that volition transportation Puerto Ricans who were uncomfortable with -- oregon outraged by -- the archetypal movie to springiness this "West Side Story" a chance.

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