There’s still a lot of bad blood between Latinx audiences and the musical West Side Story. (In case you need a refresher, this video lays out several of the movie’s issues.) But director Steven Spielberg is prepared to remake West Side Story properly, starting with the casting of the original film’s Anita, Rita Moreno in a new role. And with production prepping to start soon the rest of the cast is coming together.
The biggest coup for the film is in the casting of Maria, the Puerto Rican girl who falls in love with a white boy named Tony (set to be played by Ansel Elgort). Seventeen-year-old Colombian-American high schooler Rachel Zegler has nabbed the coveted role, beating out a reported 30,000 actresses. Zegler responded to the nationwide casting call, submitting her own taped renditions of “Tonight” and “Me Siento Hermosa” (a.k.a “I Feel Pretty”).
Part-Boricua Broadway actress Ariana DeBose will be playing Anita, the role that secured Moreno the Academy Award (and made her the first Latina to win an Oscar) while Cuban-American actor David Alvarez will tackle the role of Bernardo, Maria’s brother and leader of the Sharks. Nuyorican stage performer Josh Andres Rivera has also been cast to play Chino, the would-be suitor for Maria.
After watching several – and there are a lot – of Zegler’s YouTube videos, her casting seems to be the real gem of the production. Not only can she sing beautifully – an improvement on the 1961 film which famously dubbed non-Latinx actress, Natalie Wood – but she has serious stage presence for someone so young. As someone who considers the original a problematic fave here’s hoping Zegler steals the show and makes Maria her own.
There has been some grumbling on Twitter about the cast being light-skinned, a complaint similarly lobbed at this year’s remake of Aladdin, but it hasn’t been enough to derail people’s interest in this remake. Let’s not forget to celebrate the milestone of an Afro-Latina getting cast in the role of Anita. We’re rooting for this remake.
West Side Story starts filming this summer.