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- Puerto Rican singer, dancer and actress
Rita Moreno originated the film role of Anita in the 1961 version of "West Side Story."
She told ABC News she almost quit because of lyrics calling Puerto Rico an "ugly" island.
Moreno said she was "saved" within a few days when a new script had better lyrics to "America."
Rita Moreno won an Oscar in 1962 for playing Anita in the original 1961 film adaptation of "West Side Story." But she revealed during ABC News' "20/20" special "Something's Coming: West Side Story" that she almost quit the role before rehearsals started because of offensive lyrics about Puerto Rico that Anita was meant to sing.
The song "America" is an argument between Anita and her boyfriend, Bernardo, about whether the mainland US or Puerto Rico is a better place to live. "One day before we actually started rehearsals, I looked at the score and there it is…'Puerto Rico, you ugly island. Island of tropic diseases,'" Moreno, a native Puerto Rican, recalled.
"And it felt awful. It felt horrible. And I thought, 'I can't do this. I can't do this to my people.' I got this close to not doing it," the "One Day at a Time" star said, gesturing with her pointer finger and thumb to show how close she was to quitting the movie.
Thankfully, the lyrics were ultimately changed.
"Within days, I got [a] new script. And when I looked at 'America' it went, '[Puerto Rico,] my heart's devotion, let it sink back in the ocean.' And I was saved," she said.
This isn't the first time Moreno has recalled the original offensive lyric and how it almost turned her off the film entirely. She told the hosts of "The View" about it during a December 1 appearance on the show. In June 2021, she told "Good Morning America" that she found the original lyrics to be "quite disparaging to Puerto Rico" and explained that lyricist Stephen Sondheim had ultimately changed the lyric "not knowing" of her concerns, which made it possible for her to do the film.
In her "20/20" interview, Moreno also recalled how she tried to speak out against the brownface used to darken actors' skin on the set of the original film, but she wasn't heard.
Spielberg told "20/20" that for his new adaptation of "West Side Story," he and his team took special care to represent all marginalized communities better "because it's important that representation be authentic to return the piece to the integrity that I think it deserves."
The director noted that as many Puerto Rican actors and dancers were hired for the film as possible and the role of Anybodys, originally described as a "tomboy" and played by female actor Susan Oakes, was given a non-binary identity in Spielberg's film and played by transgender and non-binary actor Iris Menas.
This reimagining of "West Side Story" hits theaters on December 10.
Read the original article on Insider