At first, the simple idea seemed a total novelty, because “West Side Story,” the popular Broadway musical that premiered in 1957 with lyrics written by legendary Stephen Sondheim, was fleshed out six decades earlier into a feature film that is still considered an unparalleled classic. doubt. Film and won 10 Oscars (including Best Picture).
So the existence of what many still consider a “reproduction” (even though it’s actually the theatrical film’s second adaptation) seems as unnecessary as it was reckless, even as it became known that the man responsible for the insane project was none other than Steven Spielberg.
However, this week, after rigorous press posts before the December 10 commercial premiere, the ban on criticism was lifted, and these have been overwhelmingly positive, as evidenced by the 93% who currently holds the tape on Rotten Romatoes and commentary. From professionals who are already talking about the increased possibility that work will be nominated in important categories of upcoming award events.
What has just been said has also put in the center of attention Ariana Debos, a Puerto Rican descendant who has participated in several musicals but was practically unknown to large audiences, and who stirred up all sorts of enthusiasm with her interpretation of Anita, the spirited “Nuyorican” already immortalized by the legendary Rita Moreno (who won an Oscar for the role and who also stars in the current movie made herself expensive from a role created especially for the occasion).
But we must not close our eyes to David Alvarez, the son of Canadian-born Cubans, who puts himself in the shoes of another hero, Bernardo, Anita’s friend and leader of the “Neourican” shark gang, who is constantly encountered by planes, who are Anglo-Saxons.
In their recent Zoom interview they gave us, and you can also see here in their video transcript, DeBose and Álvarez talk about the challenges involved in participating in this ambitious production, about how important it is to use Spanish in it. The pride they feel in their roots and in the diversity of the Latino community living in the United States.
You’ve already seen the movie and you’re both great at it, but I imagine you’re at least a little nervous when you start making it, because it was directed by Steven Spielberg and had a “small movie” precedent sixty years ago. That won ten Oscars.
Alvarez: For me, one of the best lessons this has given me has been to have confidence in yourself, have faith in yourself, and have confidence in knowing that you have something unique to put on the table. When they told me he was going to play Bernardo, it was scary, because he was afraid to be compared to George Chakris, who he played in the previous movie, who was a perfectionist and whom I admired so much as an artist.
I felt I should break free and do something, and here was Steven Spielberg, [el guionista] Tony Kushner and the entire team have gone to great lengths to help us find our personalities within ourselves, and trust our instincts. I am forever grateful to him.
Debus: It was so overwhelming, exciting, and so wonderful, there were times when I thought, “What was I thinking?” [risas] But I think there is no better time than now to present this film to the world, because it celebrates the entirety of the diaspora, which is unbelievable.
Comparisons are inevitable, but two things must be allowed to exist simultaneously. The 1961 movie will always be a classic, but our version and performances stand up to themselves, offering something audiences haven’t seen before. I think all viewers will be very surprised at how authentic this story is and the level of integrity it helped make.
Speaking of new things, there is a lot of Spanish, and you obviously already know that because of the text; But did you also know that there will be no English translation at that time? Because it is a decision that makes the experience different depending on the language each viewer uses.
Debus: For Latinos, wouldn’t it be nice not to be treated differently? This is like showing the small and subtle acceptance, by saying “This language is true, it is good and it matters.” It also brings people closer to the language, because you may not speak Spanish, but you know what they say; You can feel it.
Alvarez: I think it was a great decision. I don’t know if Stephen was the one who specifically wanted it…
Debus: I heard it from Stephen. He told me it was his decision.
Alvarez: …and I think it was a great idea, because being a member of the audience makes you feel like you’re entering yourself into the lives of these characters and trying to figure out what’s going on, whether it’s on the sharks side or in those planes. It makes you an observer seeking to understand the difficulties these cultures face and what these people must go through. It’s something that I support one hundred percent and that I adore.
You play a Puerto Rican duo from New York who are very fierce. Ariana, your character, Anita, is trying to adapt to American society and does not want those around her to speak Spanish, while David’s character, Bernardo, is very proud of her origin and speaks more Spanish, although she also does. . I understand that David was more exposed to the language while growing up, and that it was more difficult for you. In that sense, do you think the characters somewhat reflect the real experiences of the two?
Debus: Interesting to say. It should be a subconscious parallel, not something that was put into the text for that specific reason. But Anita wants to assimilate, and that’s something I can totally relate to because of the way she was brought up. I didn’t necessarily have the opportunity to immerse myself in my Hispanic origins growing up, and this movie was such a wonderful gift for me, because it opened the biggest window I’ve ever had when it came to accepting all the parts that make me and feeling completely accepted. to my community in Puerto Rico. It was an amazing process. David can see my evolution to be all I am now.
Alvarez: This is a testament to what happened to our parents’ generation, who had to choose between spreading their culture and language among their children or not. This is why there is so much diversity and differences in Latino families immigrating to the United States. It is sad that our parents came to the idea that perhaps it would have been better not to teach their children Spanish or tell them about their own culture, because something like that was not accepted in this country. This is why this movie is so important; Because it is okay to teach the new generation what your culture is.
Debus: Everything is part of yourself. The lesson here is that there are certain risks in assimilation, and this is a debate that must also begin. But I think it’s also important to note that there is no one way to be Latino, especially in today’s world. We have many experiences presenting themselves in completely different ways, and they all need validation so that we can move forward, find acceptance, take our place, and make our voices heard.
Alvarez: Making this movie brought us very close to who we are and where we come from. I think our parents would be very proud that things are changing, and that we have a director like Steven Spielberg willing to give us a voice and say, “Hey, it’s okay to share your culture with the new generations.”
Ariana, you said there are different Latinos, and you are Afro-Latino. That’s how your character is, obviously, and he even mentioned the word “black” in the movie. This community is not underrepresented in film and television, so this should be important to you.
Debus: When I was offered the prospect of playing Anita, I realized that this job would give me the opportunity to create a role model that I hadn’t had before. Of course I had Rita Moreno, but the truth is, she doesn’t look like me. It has taken me a long time in my life to realize that I can be black and Latino and that is a very good thing. I think it’s important for Latino youth to see that these intersecting identities are real and positive. Playing Anita, letting her be an Afro Latina, and being proudly an Afro Latina is awesome.
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