Rita Moreno Remembers When a ‘West Side Story’ Makeup Artist Asked Her if She Was Racist

Lead Photo: Rita Moreno attends the 33rd Annual Imagen Awards at L.A. LIVE. Photo by JC Olivera/Getty Images
Rita Moreno attends the 33rd Annual Imagen Awards at L.A. LIVE. Photo by JC Olivera/Getty Images
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In her illustrious, six-decade career, Rita Moreno has seen a shift take place in front of and behind the cameras. Back in the 1950s – when she starred as one of the few Latinas on West Side Story – a makeup artist shut her down when she tried to make a suggestion. “I also had extremely dark makeup,” Moreno told Maria Hinojosa and Julio Ricardo Varela in the latest episode of In the Thick. “I said to the makeup man one day, ‘My God, why do we all have to be the same color? Puerto Ricans are French, and Spanish, and whatever you have it.’ We are Taino Indian. We are Black. And the makeup man actually said to me, ‘What are you, a racist?’”

Nowadays, she stars on Netflix’s One Day at a Time, which focuses on a Cuban-American family living in Echo Park, Los Angeles. Behind the scenes, the half Latinx writing room enriched the plot through its own experiences. So when Moreno suggested that her character have sex appeal, they listened.

West Side Story likely could have used Rita’s input, and so could ODAAT. The difference is that the writers behind the Netflix show knew it. But perhaps what makes the show so special is that it so seamlessly blends U.S. and Cuban cultures. The show sprinkles in a healthy dose of Spanish and doesn’t rely on subtitles to get its point across. Unlike, the pioneering ¿Que Pasa USA? – centered around a Cuban-American family in Little Havana – One Day at a Time doesn’t follow a line of dialogue in Spanish with its English counterpart. It just reflects the way many Latinos talk at home – down to the curse words.

For Rita, the fact that the show has managed to maintain its own distinct identity, without excluding non-Latinas is a testament to what they writers have created. “They have achieved a balance that is almost impossible to achieve in [a] sitcom. it is a show about a hispanic family, cuban american, that doesn’t leave out the rest of the world, which, of course, doesn’t speak Spanish. We do not overdo the Spanish speaking. I mean, I for one, am a person who does not want a whole lot of that. You don’t want them to feel left out.”

In episode No. 44 of In the Thick, Rita also talks about accents and the original One Day at a Time. Check it out below: