Rita Moreno pushed back against dark makeup in original 'West Side Story': 'I'm not that color'

Rita Moreno almost said no to Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake.

The EGOT winner starred in the original 1961 movie musical, which tells the story of star-crossed lovers caught between rival street gangs the Sharks, who are Puerto Rican, and the Jets, who are white. The film, which is considered one of the greatest movie musicals of all time, took home 10 Academy Awards including best picture.

Moreno, 89, won the best supporting actress Oscar playing Anita, the dynamic and fiercely loyal girlfriend of Sharks leader Bernardo (George Chakiris) and a confidante to his younger sister, Maria (Natalie Wood). But the actress was hesitant when Spielberg called her up and asked her to appear in his new adaptation (in theaters Dec. 10), written by “Angels in America” playwright Tony Kushner.

Rita Moreno pushed back against dark makeup in original 'West Side Story': 'I'm not that color'

“I almost wet my knickers. I couldn’t believe this was Steven Spielberg on the phone, whom I so admired,” Moreno told USA TODAY last month, speaking in support of her new documentary “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” (in theaters now).

“But then I had the courage to say, ‘I don’t think I could do a cameo. I think it would be a severe disservice to this movie – it’d be a distraction,’ ” she adds. “And he said, ‘No, no, no. This is a real part. Tony Kushner wrote this part for you.’ ”

Rita Moreno pushed back against dark makeup in original 'West Side Story': 'I'm not that color'

Moreno portrays a new character, Valentina, who is Doc’s widow. (In the 1961 movie, Doc, played by Ned Glass, owns a candy store where the Sharks and the Jets hang out.) Valentina is a reworked and expanded version of the Doc character, and sings a rendition of the classic song “Somewhere” in the movie’s first trailer.

In addition to the role, Spielberg also made Moreno an executive producer on the film.

Moreno, who was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico, and moved to New York when she was 5, resented producers’ decision to darken her skin for the original “West Side.” The issue resurfaced on Twitter this past week, when Moreno defended Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose new film “In the Heights” has come under fire for its lack of Afro-Latino actors in lead and supporting roles. (Moreno has since apologized, saying, “I was clearly dismissive of Black lives that matter in our Latin community.”)

“I remember saying to my makeup man once on the original ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Why do I have to wear such dark makeup? I’m not that color,’ ” Moreno says. “And he literally said to me, ‘What, are you a racist?’ He really said that and I was so astonished that I shut up, because I didn’t know what to say to that. If I said, ‘No, I’m not a racist,’ I feel he would not believe me, so I let it drop. But it was shocking.”

Rita Moreno pushed back against dark makeup in original 'West Side Story': 'I'm not that color'

As well as the use of brownface, the first “West Side” has been criticized for casting white actors in Hispanic roles and perpetuating stereotypes about Puerto Ricans. But Spielberg and Kushner “corrected all that stuff,” Moreno says. In the update, “every Hispanic (character) is actually Hispanic.”

That includes the new Anita, played by Ariana DeBose (Netflix’s “The Prom”), whose mother is white and father is Afro-Puerto Rican.

“She was quite nervous to meet me,” Moreno says of DeBose. “I watched a lot of the dance rehearsals and she’s a ferocious dancer. She’s fabulous. And what I love about Steven choosing her is that she’s Afro-Puerto Rican.”

Rita Moreno pushed back against dark makeup in original 'West Side Story': 'I'm not that color'

The stage and screen legend also lavishes praise on “our beautiful Maria,” Rachel Zegler. Unlike Wood, who was white, Zegler is of Colombian and Polish descent.

“Oh, she’s lovely,” Moreno says. “She’s Maria: She’s young, she’s sweet, she was 17 when we started this, the way Maria is supposed to be. A lot of this stuff is so true to what it was meant to be. Whether you’re disappointed because the choreography isn’t the same or some scene didn’t work out for you as the audience, you still absolutely have to see it.”

‘Incredibly disappointed with myself’:Rita Moreno after defending ‘In the Heights’ amid colorism controversy

News Related


Spy: Meet the celebs playing charades

Your inner strength is best defined as, “stable traits, an enduring source of well-being, wise and effective action, and contributions to others.” [1] In other words, your inner strength is ... Read more »

'Intimate and heartfelt:' Prince Harry working on memoir to be published in 2022

United Kingdom authorities say they have decided against giving mass COVID-19 vaccinations to all children and the doses will only be offered in certain situations such as when young people ... Read more »

'Powered by love': Halsey announces birth of first child

NEW YORK — Prince Harry is writing what his publisher is calling an “intimate and heartfelt memoir.” The book by the Duke of Sussex, currently untitled, is expected to come ... Read more »

Tony Bennett performing with Lady Gaga one last time after revealing battle with Alzheimer's disease

Almost a third of Victoria's locally-acquired coronavirus cases can be traced back to a sports fan who attended an AFL match, a Euro 2020 viewing party and the rugby while ... Read more »

Halsey welcomes first child with screenwriter Alev Aydin: 'Powered by love'

Victorians are set to learn how long lockdown will be extended as authorities buy time for contact tracers to beat an outbreak of the Delta coronavirus variant. Premier Daniel Andrews ... Read more »

See Megan Thee Stallion, Leyna Bloom cover Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue: 'Dreams come true'

The United States and a coalition of allies have accused China of a global cyber hacking campaign that employed contract hackers, specifically attributing a large Microsoft attack disclosed earlier this ... Read more »

Kanye West to debut long-awaited 'Donda' album this week at listening party in Atlanta

A Florida man who breached the US Senate chamber carrying a Trump campaign flag has been sentenced to eight months behind bars, the first resolution for a felony case in ... Read more »

Robin Roberts on why her 'Jeopardy!' hosting nerves 'felt good,' wisdom from Alex Trebek

The COVID-19 pandemic did not lead to more Australians taking their own lives, contrary to some predictions. But it did increase levels of psychological distress, particularly for younger people. The ... Read more »

'Never Have I Ever': Mindy Kaling, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan break down that Season 2 love triangle

A fifth person has died amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Greater Sydney as the NSW premier admits “some level of restriction” will remain in place until the state's vaccination rates ... Read more »

James Brown's family settles 15-year battle over the late singer's estate, attorney says

The fire service has managed to stop the leak of the toxic gas ammonia in Fredrikstad. “The fire service has stopped the leak. They are now airing out the area, ... Read more »

'They Both Die at the End' author Adam Silvera took this unconventional road to YA success

The Adelaide Crows have survived a late scare to snap a four-game losing streak, defeating Hawthorn by 19 points at Marvel Stadium. Star midfielder Rory Laird was outstanding with 34 ... Read more »

Ryan Reynolds on making the first move on Blake Lively: 'I was just begging her to sleep with me'

Ryan Reynolds recalls making the first move on wife Blake Lively. The “Deadpool” actor was featured on the SmartLess podcast Monday, where he spoke to hosts Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes ... Read more »

Britt McHenry's harassment lawsuit against Fox News, former co-host Tyrus voluntarily dismissed

Britt McHenry’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News and George “Tyrus” Murdoch has been voluntarily dismissed by the parties involved. “I am very proud to have to stood up for ... Read more »

5 books not to miss: Mena Suvari memoir 'The Great Peace,' gripping novel 'Fierce Little Thing'

In search of something good to read? USA TODAY’s Barbara VanDenburgh scopes out the shelves for this week’s hottest new book releases. All books are on sale July 27. 1. ... Read more »

Spoilers! How that chilly 'Snake Eyes' ending sets up an 'iconic' G.I. Joe franchise feud

Spoiler alert! The following post discusses important plot points and the ending of “Snake Eyes” so beware if you haven’t seen it yet. The new “G.I. Joe” reboot “Snake Eyes” ... Read more »

Britney Spears' lawyer says he is 'moving aggressively' to remove Jamie Spears as conservator

Days after Britney Spears was granted a new lawyer in her fight against her conservatorship, attorney Mathew Rosengart says he is “moving aggressively and expeditiously” to petition to remove the ... Read more »

Nature lovers, need something to read at the beach? Look no further than this list of titles

Summertime … and the reading is easy. July and August are traditional months for reading at the beach, so let me share a few of my favorite books — some ... Read more »

Ashton Kutcher is not going to space (yet) after Mila Kunis convinced him to sell his ticket

Ashton Kutcher is staying earthbound for now, after his wife, Mila Kunis, convinced him to sell his ticket on a space flight. The actor, best known for his roles on ... Read more »

Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon's daughter Monroe makes modeling debut with OshKosh B'gosh

Mariah Carey’s daughter is hitting a “high note” with her modeling debut. Monroe Cannon, who the “We Belong Together” singer shares with ex-husband Nick Cannon, stars in the latest campaign ... Read more »

Miss Universe 2021 to be held in Israel, Steve Harvey to return as host

NEW YORK — Miss Universe is heading to Israel for its 70th competition. The Miss Universe Organization announced Tuesday that the pageant will be held this December in the southern ... Read more »

Lil Nas X goes to court for Satan shoes in 'genius' teaser video for 'Industry Baby'

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Lil Nas X has outdone his internet trolls once again. The rapper released a two-minute teaser Monday to promote his upcoming single “Industry Baby” ... Read more »

Halsey welcomes first child, Ender Ridley Aydin, into the world

On July 14, the “Without Me” singer gave birth to her first child with boyfriend Alev Aydin. Read more »

Watch: 'Playing with Sharks': Valerie Taylor swims with 'dangerous' marine animals

Valerie Taylor dives with “dangerous” marine animals in this clip from “Playing with Sharks” (airing on Disney + July 23). Read more »

Spy: Shock injury plunges Block contestant's future into doubt

Keegan Crawford’s future on The Block is in doubt after an on-set injury, with question marks on whether his brother Dylan can go it alone. The teams were competing in ... Read more »

Trailer Tuesdays: Revisiting the craziest M. Night Shyamalan plot twists ahead of 'Old'

Ahead of his film “Old,” USA TODAY’s Brian Truitt revisits some of the craziest plot twists from director M. Night Shyamalan’s past movies. Read more »

Toronto Film Festival to open with ‘Dear Evan Hansen,' Jessica Chastain to debut Tammy Faye biopic

The adaptation of Broadway hit and Tony-winner “Dear Evan Hansen,” Edgar Wright’s ’60s London-themed “Last Night in Soho,” and “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” are just a few of the ... Read more »

Lego Masters coming to New Zealand on TVNZ 2 in 2022

New Zealand is about to be hit by a tonne of Lego bricks – more than 2.5 million of them. The hugely popular reality series Lego Masters is heading to ... Read more »

Which James Bond movie did best at the box office? It wasn't 'Goldfinger' or 'Skyfall'

“Bond, James Bond“: One of the most memorable lines in cinematic history also ignited one of the most profitable franchises in filmdom. The 26 Bond films thus far released (a ... Read more »

'It's always #HotGirlSummer': Dolly Parton dresses up as a Playboy bunny for husband's birthday

Dolly Parton sent the social media world into an ecstatic spiral Tuesday when the country superstar dressed up like an original Playboy bunny (ears, bow tie and all) to wish ... Read more »

'AGT': Simon Cowell 'surprised' this dancer landed on his feet after wife ditched him

The stakes are higher than ever. Tuesday kicked off the last night of auditions on “America’s Got Talent,” which judge Heidi Klum described as the “best season yet.” And with ... Read more »

Britney Spears spotted wearing engagement ring during date with boyfriend Sam Asghari

Britney Spears has been spotted out and about in Los Angeles wearing a huge engagement ring. The 39-year-old pop star, who is currently fighting in court to have her conservatorship ... Read more »

Kiwi actor Martin Henderson speaks out on Britney's conservatorship: 'She was hounded'

Kiwi actor Martin Henderson has opened up about Britney Spears’ conservatorship battle, years after appearing in her music video for Toxic in 2003. He told Page Six on Tuesday he ... Read more »

Tones and I on her debut album: Grief, life after Dance Monkey and tuning out the trolls

An artist’s next move after a big hit is always watched closely, but Tones and I found a way to be free of the pressure. Her new album, Welcome To ... Read more »

Herald afternoon quiz: July 24

Test your brains with the Herald’s afternoon quiz. Be sure to check back on nzherald.co.nz for the morning quiz tomorrow. To challenge yourself with more quizzes, CLICK HERE. Read more »

Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty's husband arrested in porn case

Police escort arrested Raj Kundra for allegedly producing and broadcasting pornographic films online, in Mumbai on July 20, 2021. MUMBAI (AFP) – Mumbai police have arrested Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty’s ... Read more »

Lorde, 24, says she's 'an elder statesman'

Lorde is happy to be an “elder statesman” at the age of just 24. The “Stoned at the Nail Salon” singer explained she rarely uses social media because she didn’t ... Read more »

Justin Bieber's wife Hailey Baldwin shoots down pregnancy speculation

Canadian singer Justin Bieber and his wife Hailey Baldwin. LOS ANGELES – American model Hailey Baldwin has swiftly shot down speculation that she is pregnant after a social media post ... Read more »

'Entourage' star Kevin Connolly says newborn daughter hospitalized with COVID-19: 'It's been hard'

Kevin Connolly’s family is on the “road to recovery” after contracting COVID-19. The 47-year-old “Entourage” alum revealed on Friday’s episode of Victory The Podcast that not only did he contract ... Read more »

Dev Patel goes on an Arthurian quest in 'The Green Knight'

King Arthur’s nephew Gawain (Dev Patel) goes on a quest to confront a mysterious and formidable figure in director David Lowery’s ‘The Green Knight.” Read more »

'Snake Eyes' star Henry Golding gets real about fatherhood, weighs in on 'Crazy Rich Asians' sequel

Henry Golding’s 3½-month-old infant daughter is on the move these days, and he’s putting his new skills as a movie ninja to good work on the home front. “She’s already ... Read more »