Spielberg Insists On Casting From Latin American Community for West Side Story

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Spielberg Insists On Casting From Latin American Community for West Side Story

 

Spielberg (left); cast members from West Side Story (right)

Spielberg Insists On Casting From Latin American Community for West Side Story.

Steven Spielberg’s 2021 production of West Side Story has already received outstanding reviews, starting off strong with a National Board of Review win for Best Actress and New York Film Critics Circle for Best Cinematography.

Spielberg’s history with the legendary musical goes way back. At a tender age of 10 years old he became obsessed with the West Side Story album track which his Father brought home in 1957. Fast forward an odd 60 years later, Spielberg is set to release his reimagining of the already iconic story.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by West Side Story (@westsidestorymovie)

However, Spielberg wants to stress this production is far from a remake of the award winning movie but actually a “reimagining” of the original stage musical. He revealed to the Guardian, “I never would have dared go near it had it only been a film.

“But, because it’s constantly being performed across the globe, I didn’t feel like I was claim-jumping on my friend Robert Wise’s 1961 movie”.

This legendary director’s dedication to showcasing West Side Story goes beyond his familiar domain of movie screens and cinemas as he pays homage to the Iconic 1957 screenplay, introduced to him through his father’s records.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by West Side Story (@westsidestorymovie)



Spielberg’s affinity for the storyline and more importantly its authenticity is the driving force behind some of the boldest creative decisions we’ve ever seen in a remake. Namely his decision to only cast members of the Latin American community to play the roles of The Sharks gang which goes hand in hand with not subtitling any Spanish dialogue in the film.

While some may claim this marginalizes non-Spanish speakers, critics Spielberg’s cast is so carefully put together that the message of the film is still beautifully expressed regardless. This considerably thought out choice of casting does more than spotlight Latinx actors (which is another plus), but also deconstructs the dominant positioning of English speakers and subordination of foreign languages in modern film.

“That was very important and that goes hand-in-hand with my reasoning for not subtitling the Spanish,” Spielberg continued. “If I subtitled the Spanish I’d simply be doubling down on the English and giving English the power over the Spanish, I needed to respect the language enough not to subtitle it,” he says on his decision.

As expected Spielberg has opened doorways for a new conversation in cinema.

Continuing his innovative choices the Academy Award winning director also uses this reimagining to introduce a more transparent insight into the racial and socio-economic structure of mid-1950s Upper West Side New York, a view point earlier versions fail to address.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by steven Spielberg (@steven_spielberg_official_)

Such as the racial conflict, alluded to in the original plot with the rivalry between The Jets (a white gang) and The Sharks ( a Puerto Rican gang) reflecting the realities of a blue collar neighbourhood.

However, subtle changes to this film such as musical numbers performed in rubbish heaps and the wrecking of San Juan Hill – not the American-Spanish 1898 war but the African American neighbourhood which was “swept away for urban renewal” displacing thousands of families- is what dignifies this 2021 reimagining of a classic.

Considering Gen Z may not know what West Side story is other than seeing it’s posters plastered on West End buses, we can definitely familiarise ourselves with thematic portraying rivalry and love and most importantly centring marginalised communities (Romeo and Juliet ring a bell guys?).

However, despite the insanely positive critical acclaim of the film not everybody approves of this very 2021 remake. The reimagined West Side Story has been banned in UAE before release due to a transgender character featuring.

Anybody whose gender identity has been left vague since the original is played by Iris Menas in this version, executives of West Side Story confirming “a character who was a man born in a female’s body. End of story.” Disney have yet to comment on this but have refused to make the edits requested by UAE.

Nonetheless, West Side Story starring Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort is due to release in UK theatres on December 20th, no edits requested.

About Post Author

Gloriana

English undergrad, Creative Writer and Poet. I’m about Fashion, Beauty always for the Culture and the occasional think pieces for them 🙂
author

English undergrad, Creative Writer and Poet. I’m about Fashion, Beauty always for the Culture and the occasional think pieces for them :)