Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler play Tony and Maria. Photo credit: Instagram
Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler play Tony and Maria. Photo: Instagram

Is West Side Story's remake more Latin?

Steven Spielberg's recent film has generated a number of comments on his bid to narrate the Latino community.  


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This year marks the 60th anniversary of West Side Story, and on Thursday, Dec. 9, a new remake directed by Steven Spielberg opened in theaters everywhere.
The story is an adaptation of the Broadway classic musical by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, which is itself a modern version of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
Spielberg's film stars American Ansel Elgort and Colombian-American Rachel Zegler, who play Tony and Maria. This version, unlike the first one, which was brought to the screens directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, is more respectful of the Latin culture being used in the story. 
That is why Spielberg himself requested the scenes in Spanish to be left unsubtitled in the original version of the film.
"Spanish is the second language of the United States, so I thought it would have been disrespectful to subtitle it, because it has to coexist with English and without any support," he said in an interview with EFE.
Spielberg explained that his goal is to bring together Spanish and English-speaking viewers during the screenings, and for them to "hear laughter from groups that understand certain things in Spanish."
This musical, which tells the story of the Puerto Rican experience in New York, was initially brought to the screen with few Puerto Rican performers in the cast, and that was something Spielberg wanted to amend with his version.
Practically the only Hispanic in the cast of the 1960s version was Rita Moreno, who played the role of Anita. Her performance won her an Oscar for 'Best Supporting Actress' in 1962. However, the rest of the 'Sharks' were Caucasian actors with makeup to darken their skin. 
Criticism for and against
Although it didn't gross as much money as expected during its first weekend in theaters, only reaching $10.5 million, the film has been very well received by moviegoers. 
"Admittedly, my expectations were tempered (do we really need a remake of such a canonical film?), but even if they hadn't been, they would have been exceeded. Kushner's script strikes me as exactly what this kind of 'update' should be: totally rooted in the 1961 original, but unraveling themes, digging into subtexts, delving into issues the original glossed over," said Alissa Wilkinson, a culture reporter and film critic for Vox.
On Rotten Tomatoes, it is noted that West Side Story has a 93% fresh score from critics and 95% fresh from the audience, showing that the public's review is quite positive. 
However, on the other side of the coin, critics mention that the connection between the characters did not feel real and that the representation of Puerto Rican culture was based on the same stereotypes of the first version. 
"Most of these details (about the Sharks) seem like cosmetic changes to correct the sins of the previous versions and, in many ways, the least the filmmakers could do," mentions Andrea González-Ramírez in her review published in The Cut.
Puerto Ricans living in New York, either for years or recently, feel that the film does not end up enhancing their culture as promised. 
Amid the struggle among viewers, the film needs to generate $300 million worldwide to break even before it leaves theaters.

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