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Steven Spielberg Says Casting His West Side Story with 'Latinx Communities' Was a 'Mandate from the Get-Go'

·3-min read
West Side Story
West Side Story

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Ariana DeBose, Steven Spielberg and Rachel Zegler

Steven Spielberg's West Side Story made diverse casting for the movie-musical a top priority.

The acclaimed director appeared on Talking Movies on BBC's Radio 4 Today where he said, "First thing I said was every single Shark, boy and girl, needs to come from the Latinx communities. And without fail."

Spielberg's reimagining of the classic Broadway musical comes 60 years after the 1961 film debuted in theaters. The original film starred Rita Moreno as Anita, one of the only Puerto Rican actors in the film. The classic, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, has since been criticized for darkening Moreno's skin and for casting white actors in the roles of Shark members.

"We just wanted for this movie to get it right in the way that we wanted every single person who plays a Puerto Rican to be from the Latinx community, and that was a mandate from the get-go," Spielberg said.

RELATED: Rita Moreno Says She 'Really Resented' West Side Story Darkening Her Skin: It Wasn't 'My Color'

The director also revealed why he chose the iconic musical as his latest project, telling the BBC, "I think I wanted to direct a musical film because I knew I couldn't sing and dance."

"It's a tremendous way of sort of throwing myself into a genre that physically I would never be part of, except to be able to tell a story in that idiom," he added.


Niko Tavernise/20th Century Studios

The new adaptation stars Hamilton's Ariana DeBose as Anita, newcomer Rachel Zegler as Maria, Ansel Elgort as Tony and David Alvarez as Bernardo.

Moreno also makes a return to the musical in the new role of Valentina, a store owner who offers Tony work after he attempts to rebuild his life following a prison stint.

RELATED: West Side Story's Ariana DeBose Reveals Rita Moreno 'Empowered' Her in Portraying Anita: WATCH

In August, Zegler told Town & Country the Spielberg film wasn't "trying to recreate, frame for frame, the 1961 movie."

"That film exists as this incredible piece of pop culture that everyone has seen and been affected by in some way. I don't think any of us would ever try to recreate that," said Zegler, 20. "There are things to improve on and things to address. It's such a cultural phenomenon, that film and the musical in general."

RELATED VIDEO: Steven Spielberg Knew 'Intuitively' Rachel Zegler Would Get Role of Maria in West Side Story

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"I think the way Steven and [screenwriter] Tony [Kushner] framed it to all of us when we were auditioning, when we were rehearsing, when we were shooting, was, 'We are making a movie of the original Broadway musical. This is our take on a story that every-one has heard, and knows so well, and really loves,'" she recalled.

The film also stars Mike Faist, Maddie Ziegler, Myles Erlikc, Kyle Allen, Ezra Menas and Brian d'Arcy James.

West Side Story is in theaters on Dec. 10.

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