Over the last week or so, a number of films set to come out this spring delayed their release, with dozens of TV shows and movies pausing production, amid concerns of the spreading COVID-19 pandemic. However, months from now in December, Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited West Side Story is slated for release. Vanity Fair released a first look at the newest iteration of star-crossed lovers, and based on the photos, it looks like we’re in for a dazzling, heart-wrenching experience.
Check out the first look photos for West Side Story directed by Steven Spielberg in @VanityFair. See #WestSideStoryMovie in theaters this December. Read more: https://t.co/9nThw8jAgJ @Amblin pic.twitter.com/K6bHegPPkT— 20th Century Studios (@20thcentury) March 16, 2020
For those who’ve somehow never seen the Oscar-winning 1961 film or any sort of theater production, West Side Story follows the ill-fated love story between Tony and Maria, who meet and fall in love amid a rising turf war in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, of which they’re from opposing sides. The upcoming film stars Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Zegler as the Romeo & Juliet-inspired characters.
David Alvarez plays Bernardo, Maria’s brother and leader of the Sharks, a Puerto Rican group who rival the Jets, the white street gang that Tony is trying to leave. Ariana DeBose is Anita—Bernardo’s girlfriend and Maria’s confidante—an optimist who firmly believes in the American Dream and tries to dissuade the tension between groups.
While the original Broadway musical opened in 1957, Spielberg spoke of the West Side Story‘s timelines to Vanity Fair, saying:
“This story is not only a product of its time, but that time has returned, and it’s returned with a kind of social fury. I really wanted to tell that Puerto Rican, Nuyorican experience of basically the migration to this country and the struggle to make a living, and to have children, and to battle against the obstacles of xenophobia and racial prejudice.”
The 1961 film adaptation was a critical and box office sensation, winning 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and two acting awards for Rita Moreno (Best Supporting Actress for her role as Anita) and George Chakiris (Best Supporting Actor for his role of Bernardo).
Rita Moreno is the only latina to win an Oscar (for West Side Story). She's coming for a second nomination for a remake of the film that gave her the award (an irresistible narrative). pic.twitter.com/V59asHarBQ— Ronaldo Trancoso Jr (@ronaldotrancoso) March 16, 2020
While the stylings and colorful nature of the film appear to be reminiscent of the 1961 film, one of the most notable changes is Spielberg’s—and writer Tony Kushner’s—commitment to casting Latino actors. Moreno was one of the lone Latina actors cast in the original film; make-up was used to darken the skin of the white actors—including Natalie Wood and Chakiris—playing Puerto Rican characters.
Legendary actress Moreno also appears in the upcoming film, as a new character in place of Doc, the drugstore owner from the original musical who tries to quell the brewing violence. She plays Valentina, Doc’s widow, a tough woman trying to keep the peace. Moreno, who is also an executive producer on the project, lauded Spielberg for his casting of the Latino actors and ensuring there was an authenticity to the Latino characters and their experiences.
While we still have several months to go before the film arrives, if the film is anything like the photos suggest, West Side Story will be making the award season rounds once more.
The film also stars Mike Faist, Corey Stoll, and Brian d’Arcy James and is set to premiere on December 18.
Feature Image: Ramona Rosales/20th Century Studios