Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story Promises Fair Representation of the Latinx Community

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Amblin via Twitter

Whether you are a musical fan or not, we can agree that there is no better time in the history of the country than the Trump era to revive theater and cinema classics that consider themes of  immigration and race.

Detained and separated immigrants, rejected asylum seekers in hordes at the borders, Puerto Ricans tired of oblivion and neglect, and a whiter White House than ever before form the perfect context for remembering that the history of this country has been written with the sweat of those who came in search of the famous American Dream.

And there is no story that illustrates this scenario better than West Side Story, the musical written by Arthur Laurents, set to music by Leonard Bernstein and with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim that brought the first Shakespearean tragicomedy of the 20th century to the streets of New York.

Set on the Upper West Side in the mid-1950s, the story of the Sharks of Puerto Rico and the white Jets rewrote the rivalry of the Capulets and the Montagues into the endogenous racism of the United States.

Sixty years later, this story is still alive.

Taking advantage of the revival of the “citizenship” and “belonging” debate, director Steven Spielberg (E.T., Jaws, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park) has decided to put the romance between Maria and Tony, the immortal protagonists of West Side Story, back on the big screen.

“This story is not only a product of its time, but that time has returned, and it’s returned with a kind of social fury,” Spielberg said to Vanity Fair. “I really wanted to tell that Puerto Rican, Nuyorican experience of basically the migration to this country and the struggle to make a living, and to have children, and to battle against the obstacles of xenophobia and racial prejudice.”

In collaboration with Justin Peck, New York City Ballet’s resident choreographer, Tony Kushner, playwright of Angels in America, and a cast of exclusively Hispanic artists (20 out of 33 on staff), the famous director wanted to give his new work the authentic character it required.

“They brought an authenticity,” he said. “They brought themselves, and everything they believe and everything about them — they brought that to the work,” he said. “And there was so much interaction between the cast wanting to be able to commit to the Puerto Rican experience. They all represent, I think, a diversity, both within the Puerto Rican, Nuyorican community as well as the broader Latinx community. And they took that seriously.”

The roles once played by Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, George Chakiris and Rita Moreno (the first Latina to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress), will now be played respectively by Rachel Zegler, Ansel Elgort, David Alvarez, and Ariana DeBose.

Moreno will return to the stage as Valentina, Doc’s widow, “the old-timer who ran the corner store that served as neutral ground for the gangs,” according to the magazine. The actress also said that Spielberg has tried to “fix and ameliorate” some errors in the original version, such as the absence of truly Hispanic actors.

We will have to wait until December 11 to judge for ourselves.