Close to six decades after it first hit the big screen, West Side Story is back. Or will be: Steven Spielberg’s remake of the 1961 Oscar winning musical about a pair of star-crossed lovers caught in between two feuding gangs will premiere in December. Long seen as both a groundbreaking studio film as well as a dated musical that despite centering on Puerto Rican characters cast Natalie Wood in the role of Maria, West Side Story has long been overdue for a remake. One that, as Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner have learned the hard way has needed some much needed updates.
The new West Side Story stars Ansel Elgort as Maria’s beloved, and Rachel Zegler stepping into Natalie Wood’s dancing shoes. Sharing a first look at the film over at Vanity Fair, the director shared how important it was to cast actual Puerto Ricans to portray Maria and the rest of the Sharks gang. “They brought an authenticity,” he told the magazine. “They brought themselves, and everything they believe and everything about them — they brought that to the work. 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 images also offered the first look at Rita Moreno’s new character, Valentina. She’s the owner of the corner store where the Sharks and the Jets could find neutral ground. Moreno, who won as Oscar for her portrayal of Anita in the original film, serves also as an executive producer on the project and helped bring even more authenticity to the entire production.
Taking over her OG role is Ariana DeBose, a Broadway actress who by her casting alone makes Anita a much more complicated character altogether. As she shared with Vanity Fair, she knew she could bring new dimensions to the role. “I’m Afro-Latina,” she remembers telling Spielberg, “As a woman of color, if you’re going to consider me for this role, I would potentially be the darkest woman to play her on-screen.”
“In one way, you’re not really sure if Anita’s African American or if she’s Latina,” she added. “I was like, ‘I think there’s really something to lean into, if that’s of value,’ and [Spielberg] was intrigued by that observation. It was fun from the jump to feel like I was contributing to his new vision in a way.”
Take a look at Moreno, DeBose, Zegler and the rest of the cast of the new film below.
West Side Story opens in theaters December 18, 2020.