The Hypocrisy Of Politically Correct Casting Mandates: Spielberg’s “West Side Story” Virtue-Signaling Debunked

There has to be a one word summary for this. “Ha!” “Duh”? “Yecchh!” “Wha?”

There is going to be a new film version of “West Side Story,” apparently to have one that doesn’t involve casting Russian-Americans (Natalie Wood) and Greek-Americans (George Chakiris) as Puerto Ricans. Of course, it’s OK for a white character to undergo a gender and nationality change because shut-up. This is, I believe, a doomed project, much as the remakes of “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments” were doomed. Remaking a film that won ten Oscars is a fool’s errand. So is making any movie musical in an era when the genre is seen as silly and nerdy by a large proportion of the movie-going audience, especially one that requires watching ballet-dancing street gangs without giggling. Steven Spielberg, who accepted this challenge, must have lost his mind.

Ah, but apparently wokeness, not art or profit, is the main goal.

“When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community,” said Spielberg. “I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they’ll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that’s more relevant than ever.”

Maria will be played by 17-year old New Jersey High School student Rachel Zegler,  making her film debut opposite Ansel Elgort as Tony. The Sharks will be played by Ariana DeBose as Anita, David Alvarez as Bernardo, and Josh Andrés Rivera has been cast as Chino. The 1962 film’s Anita, Rita Moreno, is now playing what was the white, non-Hispanic, male role of Doc, now renamed and re-sexed.

Bravo to George Mason law prof. David Bernstein, for this deft take-down:

Why do Puerto Rican characters in West Side Story need to be played by Latinos, but not Italian characters by people of Italian or (better yet, given the demographics of New York’s Italian community, specifically Sicilian) descent? Why is having a Colombian-American a politically-correct choice to play a Puerto Rican? What do Colombia and Puerto Rico have in common besides different dialects of the Spanish language? If you were trying to cast an Australian of 1960, would casting an English-speaking actor from the US, or India, be “authentic”? Isn’t kind of insulting to assume that all Spanish-speaking countries are interchangeable?

… When affirmative action programs started in the Sixties, “Chicano” (Mexican-American) groups lobbied for Mexican-Americans to be included as a “minority” group. Once Mexican-Americans were included, the category gradually expanded. First, it was anyone with a Spanish surname. But that proved overbroad, because many Italians have last names that sound Spanish, and many people of Hispanic descent do not. So eventually this morphed into “Latino” or Hispanic. But why, for example, an Argentine immigrant of Italian heritage is less “white” than a native-born American of Italian heritage is a mystery. Having lived in Peru, the irony of seeing like-skinned Latin Americans of mostly European origin who are generally contemptuous of darker-skinned Latin Americans suddenly becoming “people of color” eligible for minority preferences if they immigrate to the U.S. is something to behold.

…Oh, and while we’re at it, here is Zegler’s “racial” background: “Her father is of Polish ancestry on his own father’s side, and of Irish, German, and Italian ancestry on his own mother’s. Rachel’s mother is of Colombian origin.”

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Sources: Deadline Hollywood, Instapundit

22 thoughts on “The Hypocrisy Of Politically Correct Casting Mandates: Spielberg’s “West Side Story” Virtue-Signaling Debunked

  1. Wait. These kid actors are going to be allowed to be in a bit that starts out by one of them singing, “I like to be in America?”

        • I honestly don’t know, OB, but with some directors re-writing entire scripts, maybe. I didn’t think Heinlein’s estate would allow the Mobile Infantry to be depicted as Wehrmacht, either.

          • I didn’t think Heinlein’s estate would allow the Mobile Infantry to be depicted as Wehrmacht, either.

            True dat! Although it did lend a certain ‘service to the state’ vibe that could not have been gotten without a LOT of boring explication.

            PS: I have not forgotten I owe you an authentic Tex-Mex meal, DD. Dad’s cancer has eaten my time and will for a few months yet…

        • Tony Kushner is re-writing the script for Spielberg’s new film version of “West Side Story”. Quite frankly, having seen pictures of the cast, and photographs of the scenery, I do not like what I’ve observed so far. I plan on voting my pocketbook and not going to see Spielberg’s reboot/remake of the film West Side Story when it comes to the movie theatres at around Christmastime of 2020.

  2. … When affirmative action programs started in the Sixties, “Chicano” (Mexican-American) groups lobbied for Mexican-Americans to be included as a “minority” group

    It just bugs me that they are considered a minority in this context, but Slavs and Irish are not.

  3. And why is Ansel Elgort, of Russian Jewish, Norwegian, and German heritage cast as a Polish-American. I loved Hamilton and its entire cast. Saw it twice and the “non-traditional” casting brought verve to the play. Should we have cast only white actors as Hamilton, Washington, Burr, Jefferson, and the Schuyler women ? A français as Lafayette? We are now getting entirely ridiculous. Give all actors a chance to play great roles. Take race and ethnicity out of it.

  4. Eh… I don’t care about the ethnicity, I just care that they can dance. I’d prefer an update over a remake. Black vs. Latino gangs with hip hop sequences choreographed by Chris Scott.

      • As my son tells me, you can dance hip hop to anything.

        You may be confusing the dance style with the music. Hip hop dance is a broad category representing a fusion of multiple styles, including jazz. I’ve seen it to piano concertos, country songs, etc.

        One of the reasons I think a straight remake is doomed to failure is that the original had an explosive ‘jazzy’ energy that resonated with the youth culture of the time. I know it is possible to update the dance to a modern version of that, but I’m not sure a ballet choreographer is the right person for it. Plus, choreographing for the screen is an art in and of itself.

        But, if they rebooted it, they couldn’t virtue signal as easily.

    • In either case, whether it be a re-make or an update of West Side Story, it just simply won’t or wouldn’t be West Side Story any more. What a drag.

    • Frankly, imho, it would’ve been better if Spielberg had just left the original 1961 film version of West Side Story alone and created his own film with the same theory, or a similar theory to WSS, instead of rebooting/remaking it.

      I have seen pictures of the cast, examples of Justin Peck’s choreography of the dancing, and of the backdrop scenery settings, and how colorful they all are, and I don’t like what I’ve seen, at all.

      The backdrop scenes look far more like wealthier, tonier parts of the city, as opposed to impoverished, rough-and-rundown parts of the city.

      The colors are too jarring.

      The Jets, the Sharks and their girls in Spielberg’s reboot/remake of the film West Side Story look far more like wealthy suburban prep-school kids who are dressed to the nines for partying all over town than two street gangs who are at war with each other. Frankly, I think that the Jets, the Sharks and their girls in the original 1961 film version of West Side Story look way rougher and tougher than the ones in Spielberg’s West Side Story movie.

      Justin Peck’s choreography looks too hyper, and more like hip-hop or rap dancing. I’ve seen pictures of that. Simon Oakland’s Lt. Schrank, William Bramley’s Officer Krupke, and the late Ned Glass’s Candy Store owner, Doc, look way rougher and tougher than Spielberg’s Lt. Schrank and Ofcr Krupke.

      The idea of having Doc replaced by Valentina is ridiculous. Rita Moreno looks quite awful in that picture. When she played Anita in the original 1961 film version of West Side Story, that really suited her–fantastically. She played the role of Anita not only due to sheer determination and grit (she practiced and practiced for the part before her audition for Anita.), but she had the personality, exuberance, grit, charm and looks for playing the role of Anita, as well as being a good dancer.

      Remakes/reboots of older classic films generally come out rather dreadful anyway, and I don’t see Spielberg’s reboot/remake of the film West Side Story being any exception to that.

      One of the things that made the original 1961 film version of West Side Story so great is the fact that it was preserved as a larger than life-size piece of theatre when it was transferred from stage to screen. Another thing that made the original 1961 film version of West Side Story so great is the fact that there are no good guys and no bad guys in the movie. It also pointed out that both sides not only bore responsibility for the feuding, hatred and violence, but for the fact that lives were lost on both sides.

      I know that much of the excitement over the upcoming reboot/remake of the film West Side Story is due to the fact that Steven Spielberg is directing it. Sure, he’s a good director, and he’s done some great films, and he busted his hump for 15 years in order to obtain the rights to the film, but that doesn’t make his upcoming reboot/remake of the film West Side Story a good thing, imho.

      Having said all of the above, and mentioned it in another post, but it bears repeating here: I plan on voting my pocketbook and boycotting Spielberg’s remake of the film West Side Story–inotherwords, not going to see it at all when it hits the movie theatres at around Christmastime this year.

  5. I think she will be the next Nikki Blonsky. Who is that you ask? Exactly. At least Nikki was surrounded by star power in her leading role.

  6. This controversy was presaged 20 years ago when, in a decision that made national news (http://articles.latimes.com/1999/dec/07/news/mn-41437), Amherst (Mass.) Regional High School cancelled a production of West Side Story over racial sensitivities. Then, just a few years later, a student production of the musical was done at nearby Holyoke High School, with nary a complaint. Amherst, of course, is an ultra-liberal college town. Holyoke, however, is majority Latino, primarily Puerto Rican. And the casting in Holyoke was cross-racial, with Latinos playing Jets, non-Latinos playing Sharks, etc. So as so often happens, the mostly white intelligentsia of Amherst acted out of heightened sensitivity toward a marginalized group without checking whether the broad membership of the group in question agreed with them.

    • I remember when that happened. The progressive town of Amherst, MA gave itself a pair of black eyes over that one. It was disgusting that the school caved into a bunch of extremists who didn’t even represent the entire Hispanic Community out in Amherst, which, btw, was very divided on the issue.

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