A lot of us had our doubts when we heard that Steven Spielberg would be directing a new version of West Side Story, and not just because of Hollywood remake fatigue. In the decades since it first appeared on Broadway in 1957, the Romeo and Juliet-inspired story of two warring New York street gangs has generated more than its share of criticism, especially over the writing and the casting of its Puerto Rican characters. Even the beloved 1961 movie inspires groans now for having cast Natalie Wood in the lead role of María, and for forcing Rita Moreno, the only Puerto Rican in the cast, to wear dark brown makeup as Anita.
Sixty years later, Moreno is an executive producer on Spielberg's West Side Story. She also gives a poignant performance in the new role of Valentina, the widow of Doc, the drugstore owner. By her presence, Moreno teaches us how to approach this movie, as both an affectionate tribute and a gentle corrective.