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West Story Reverse Shot

“Some have questioned whether Kushner and Spielberg—another pair of white, Jewish men—were right for the job… and, furthermore, doubted that this tale was even worth approaching once more. While some may dismiss it as a handsome retelling of a story that needed no more telling, I’d argue this is the first time that the musical has ever felt complete. For all the adaptations and revisions that have existed over the decades, this new director and writer approach the material with sensitivity and an interest in richly expanding its characters that is nothing short of remarkable. Though much of the new film stays true to its source, from its simple but memorable lyrics to its extensive choreography, the most immediately notable update is the way Spanish is incorporated throughout. Where Wise’s film had Natalie Wood, George Chakiris and Rita Moreno (the sole Puerto Rican in the main cast) caked in darkening brown makeup to fit a stereotype, Spielberg’s film hosts a diverse collection of Latinx actors that breathe new life into the story. Where simply including actors for the sake of representation would be shallow on its own terms, Spielberg allows them to slide in and out of Spanish (and Spanglish) in a way that’s more natural than anything else in contemporary American cinema. The choice to not provide subtitled translations for these characters speaking in their native language is an especially bold one, satisfyingly and intentionally avoiding the further ‘othering’ of its Latin American characters (as well as the Latin American audience stepping out to see themselves appropriately represented).”

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