This Boriqua's Thoughts on West Side Story (2021)

I am going to start this review by saying this post contains thoughts on this film that will reveal spoilers. This film is a reimagining and not a remake of  the 1961 film version of West Side Story . This reimagining was inspired by the 1957 stage production.

I felt invested in the 1961 film version when I was a little girl just as much as I felt invested in this reimagining. To be Puerto Rican and born and raised in Manhattan, I felt a keen connection to the story and its music. To be honest I wasn't going to give this film a chance at all because I love the West Side Story 1961 so much. That is until I realized that I couldn't judge a film I haven't seen. 

I ended up seeing West Side Story (2021) twice in the movie theater and brought my children with me. I wanted them to see Latinos in that magnitude in a big movie telling this iconic tragic tale. And this film did not disappoint. There are so many things that took me by surprise and left me in wonder. 

Things I Appreciated As a New York Puerto Rican:

  • Bernardo using Puerto Rican slang words
  • Many scenes being filmed in Washington Heights
  • Every single scene Valentina is in
  • Valentina singing "Somewhere"
  • The colors the Jets and Sharks wore-the Sharks were bright yellow, red, and maroon 
  • All the Spanish spoken had no English subtitles
  • The realism of Anita telling Maria you will have to leave with Tony and never come back
  • Seeing the Puerto Rican flag in many scenes which is important to the culture because they were not allowed to show their flag in public until 1952

Things That Caught Me By Surprise:

  • The Sharks singing the Puerto Rican National Anthem in front of the Jets and cops
  • The Jets understanding that Puerto Rico isn't a country or an American state
  • The Jets acknowledging that Puerto Rican's are Americans
  • The Jets referring to Anita as black and calling her derogatory names
  • Graziella standing up for Anita and screaming at the Jets to try and protect her
  • Anybodys clearly representing that she doesn't want to be a girl but a boy
  • Anybodys channeling her own concerns being in a woman body and tells Anita not to enter Doc's store
  • Tony climbing up the fire escape to Maria 
  • Riff tearing up the moment he was stabbed and saying to Tony"It's going to be okay"
  • Maria and Tony having their dance behind the bleachers, making it more realistic than defying everyone and dancing in front of them
  • Maria and Tony going on an actual date
  • Maria and Tony going to the Cloisters in upper Manhattan
  • Maria having a job being a night cleaning woman in a shop
  • Maria going in for a kiss a few moment after meeting Tony
  • The derogatory term "Spic" being used to call the Puerto Ricans
  • Lieutenant Schrank telling the Jets that they were "the last of the can't make it Caucasian's"

Things That Disappointed Me:
  • Anita and Bernardo living together unmarried-would never happened in that time publicly
  • Maria, Bernardo, and Anita's Puerto Rican accents. They were good but I found supporting actors and background actors had a better understanding of a Puerto Rican accent than the main characters
  • How fast Maria moved on Tony which showed her to be strong willed but also depicted her as a fast girl which would have been looked down on in her community
I honestly thought my disappointed list would be so much longer but I cannot think of more than what I have shared. I think if the 1961 version and the 2021 reimagining were put together it would be the perfect depiction of that time and place in New York City but as it is this film was a lot more than I though it would be. It really is beautiful. Ariana DeBose's rendition of Anita is refreshing and powerful. Her Oscar is well deserved. 

The best lesson I learned from watching this film is to give films that I might not think I would like for whatever reason, a chance. I took the chance with this film and I am so grateful that I did. It felt empowering to see my culture being represented in a big film like this one. I hope there will be more in the future because representation really does matter and we all deserve to be seen.

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