Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner’s highly-anticipated West Side Story is here! However, Kushner wasn’t sure he could do it.
WHAT IS WEST SIDE STORY?
Inspired by William Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers’ story, Romeo and Juliet comes West Side Story. Created from the minds of Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, and Arthur Laurents in 1957.
Set in the 1950s Upper West Side of New York City in a multi-racial, blue-collar neighborhood, the musical explores the world of the rivalry gangs the Sharks and the Jets. Two teenage street gangs, one white and the other Puerto Rican. Tony, a former member of the Jets, falls in love with the leader of the Sharks’ sister, Maria. All hell breaks loose because neither side approves of the couple.
After its success on Broadway, the musical was adapted into a film that went on to sweep at the Academy Awards. However, making history, the biggest win of the night goes to Rita Moreno for her portrayal of Anita. This win makes her the first and only Latine woman to win an Oscar.
When Spielberg first ask him to re-adapt the already successful West Side Story, Kushner thought he was insane. It could not be done and wanted to get out of it. However, his Husband, Mark, felt different and even had a major suggestion on how to make it his own. In the 2021 version, Doc has to die.
“Mark’s first response was, you should do it. But you have to get rid of the character of Doc. What you should do is make the character Doc’s widow, make her Puerto Rican, and ask Rita Moreno to play it.”-Tony Kusher; West Side Story Junket
So, now we have a new and incredible character for the film that adds heart, and an extra layer of depth we never had before with Valentina. Valentina is a Puerto Rican woman who spends her life raising the Jets with a kind grandmother’s hand. However, they don’t see her as a Puerto Rican woman because they know her even though she is the same as those these kids claim to hate.
Following in the footsteps of The Godfather, Spielberg’s West Side Story will not subtitle the Spanish in the film. This is all by his design and hopes for the viewer.
“That was intentional,” Kushner said. “They’re going from English to Spanish with Anita trying to get both her boyfriend,hopefully soon to be her husband, and Maria to please, we’re in New York now, please assimilate, please use this language. Anita keeps correcting everybody.So, we thought it was out of respect that we didn’t subtitle any of the Spanish.”-Tony Kusher; West Side Story Junket
It’s important to acknowledge the racism and removal of culture that Lieutenant Shrank is perpetuating. The first and easiest step in erasing a culture is removing its language.
“It leaves it in the laps of the audience, or in the minds of the audience to decide that they’re going to be more attentive, because you can tell pretty much what they’re saying.”-Rita Moreno; West Side Story Junket
West Side Story comes to theaters on December 10th, 2021. Make sure you see this on the big screen.