Steven Spielberg’s upcoming adaptation of “West Side Story” offers plenty of the same pleasures as the original Academy Award-winning film: star-crossed lovers, turf wars, and, thankfully, Rita Moreno.
However, it serves to correct many of the problems in the 1961 film. This includes casting Spanish-speaking Latinx actors. instead of largely white actorsThe Puerto Rican leaders. The film is faithful to its original spirit, but the director adopts a modern approach by updating his story with updated updates. This includes the decision to not subtitle the Spanish dialogue.
This new version features actors who speak in Spanish, but without subtitles. Spielberg claims the creative choice could make it difficult for non-Spanish speaking viewers to understand certain exchanges between the Sharks’ members and the wider Puerto Rican community.
Talking with IGN in a recent interview, the director explained that the lack of English subtitles in the film was “out of respect for the inclusivity of our intentions to hire a totally Latinx cast to play the Sharks’ boys and girls.”
Spielberg said he gave the casting director a “mandate” that all the actors playing the Puerto Rican characters needed to have “parents or grandparents or themselves from Latinx countries … especially Puerto Rico.”
“That was very important and that goes hand-in-hand with my reasoning for not subtitling the Spanish,” Spielberg added. “If I subtitled the Spanish I’d simply be doubling down on the English and giving English the power over the Spanish. This was not going to happen in this film, I needed to respect the language enough not to subtitle it.”
The decision has been widely praised across social media with many appreciating the film’s commitment to diversity.
However, others pointed out that subtitles are not always needed in certain scenes. This could lead to alienation for the hard-of-hearing community.
Screenwriter Tony Kushner also weighed in on the “intentional” decision to omit subtitles when characters are speaking Spanish throughout the film.
“That language had to exist in equal proportions alongside the English with no help,” he told Collider. “It leaves it in the laps of the audience, or in the minds of the audience, to decide that they’re gonna be more attentive because you can tell pretty much what they’re saying.”
Moreno was the right choice. She starred as Anita in 1961’s film and won the Academy Award for acting. She is now an executive producer and plays Valentina.
Moreno stated that non-Spanish-speaking people can understand the movie. “You really can,” she noted. “But just to reassure the audience, there’s a lot of English spoken. I just don’t want anyone to stay away.”
“West Side Story” hits theaters Dec. 10.