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West Side Story: 2021 Remake

As we finished off the rocky year of 2021, Steven Spielberg made sure to leave us another one of his incredible creations as a parting gift to take with us into the new year. He never disappoints, and he left us with a film that was nothing short of extraordinary. If you’re a musical lover, I definitely recommend watching the new remake of West Side Story, which premiered in December of 2021. The original West Side Story movie was released in 1961 and directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. Despite my undying love for the original film, I can’t help but admit that all of the elements of the recent remake, including cinematography, editing, cast choices, color schemes, and more came together in a perfect, eye-pleasing harmony. They succeeded in achieving the ultimate goal for a movie—leaving the audience vulnerable to having their hearts broken as they watch, and yet deciding to come back and watch it over and over again to relive those vivid emotions, because of how beautifully it speaks to their souls.

West Side Story takes place in New York City as we witness two gangs fighting over territory around town as the city continues to grow and more modern buildings are built on their territory. The gangs are The Jets, a group of young white men native to New York City, and The Sharks, a group of Puerto Rican immigrants. Their rivalry has obvious deep roots in racism, even though it isn’t directly mentioned in the script. While these two gangs plan for a ‘rumble’ to settle their neverending dispute, white ex-Jet member Tony meets Puerto Rican Maria at a dance, who is the sister of the leader of the Sharks. 

Just like Romeo and Juliet, these “forbidden” lovers are starstruck the minute their eyes lock across the dance floor, and time seems to stop only for them. Their love only stokes the flames spreading between the gangs as the members are enraged at their love. As the gangs proceed with their ‘rumble,’ casualties occur as the young men are careless with their lives and weapons. Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, stabs Riff, the leader of the Jets, directly in the heart. Tony, who was Riff’s best friend, is so blinded by emotions and utter despair that he stabs Bernardo for revenge, killing him instantly. After the ‘rumble’, Chino, the boy that Maria was supposed to marry, and Bernardo’s best friend, begins to hunt Tony down with a firearm. Tony is misinformed of Maria’s death from an angry source, and loses all will to continue living. In complete disarray, he yells and begs for Chino to find him and kill him already. Maria hears him and runs towards him, screaming, but by the time he sees her, it is too late. Chino has fired two bullets into Tony’s heart. He dies in Maria’s arms, just as the tale as old as time, Romeo and Juliet.

In comparison to the initial film adaptation of the musical West Side Story, much has changed while remaining mostly true to the original script, music, and lyrics. Steven Spielberg has made sure to only hire real Hispanic actors and actresses for the roles designated for Hispanic people. In the original film, there was plenty whitewashing, and nearly all of the actors were white. They would color over their skin with a dark pigment to create the Hispanic “look.” Spielberg must have realized how inherently racist this was and was right in his decision to make the new adaptation much more racially accurate and inclusive. As we are commemorating this month to celebrating and recognize black history, it’s important to realize the discriminative choices that we’ve made against people of color, including Hispanic people with African heritage, and try to fix them.

[Image Credit Mark Eder]


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