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

17 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…

  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.

    • “And why is Ansel Elgort, of Russian Jewish, Norwegian, and German heritage cast as a Polish-American.”

      All white people look alike…

  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.

  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.

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