Wednesday Dec 08, 2021
BUENOS AIRES: Steven Spielberg marks a milestone in U.S. film history by insisting on an authentic Latinx cast for his remake of the musical "West Side Story", opening worldwide this week.
For the film, an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway play and 1961 movie, Spielberg not only recruited young Latinx artists but also researched what life was like for Puerto Ricans in the 1960s in New York.
The 1961 film, a story of love and rivalry inspired by "Romeo and Juliet", involving a gang of white youth, the Jets, and a gang of Puerto Rican immigrants, the Sharks, won 10 Oscars.
Yet the only Latin actress in the main cast was Rita Moreno, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Anita. Natalie Wood starred as the young Puerto Rican immigrant Maria, whose forbidden romance with a white teen is at the heart of the movie.
The new version couldn't be more different.
"I wanted to cast it authentically, to ensure that the actors playing the Shark boys and girls were 100% Latinx, and young," Spielberg said.
Spielberg spent more than a year looking for his cast, including in Latin America and Australia. Twenty cast members are Puerto Ricans or descendants of Puerto Ricans, including Moreno, now 89, who plays a different role this time around.
Latinos are the largest minority in the United States, forming 19% of the population but are vastly under-represented in film and television, numerous studies have found.
"He is using his privilege to say, well, if I can do it, everybody can, and pay respects to the culture and create a film in an epic fashion that is made with such integrity," said Ariana DeBose, the Afro-Latina actress and dancer who plays Anita, of Spielberg.