Steven Spielberg Explains He Didn’t Use English Subtitles In West Side Story Because It Would Give “The English Power Over The Spanish”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 29: Steven Spielberg speaks during the New York premiere of West Side Story on November 29, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for 20th Century Studios)

Director Steven Spielberg recently explained why he chose not to use English subtitles for Spanish speaking parts in his new adaptation of West Side Story.

Spielberg’s explanation came when he spoke to IGN in a promotional interview for the movie.

“I didn’t want to subtitle any of the Spanish out of respect for the inclusivity of our intentions to hire a totally Latino, Latinx cast to play the Shark boys and girls,” he explained.

Spielberg continued, “That was a mandate that I put down to Cindy Tolan, who cast the movie, that I’m not going to entertain any auditions of anybody who isn’t… Parents or grandparents or themselves from Latinx countries, especially Puerto Rico.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 29: (L-R) Ariana DeBose, Steven Spielberg, and Rachel Zegler attend the New York premiere of West Side Story on November 29, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for 20th Century Studios)

“We have 20 performers in our film from Puerto Rico or they are Nuyoricans,” the director said. “And that was very important. And that goes hand in hand for not subtitling the Spanish.”

He then declared, “If I subtitled the Spanish, I’d simply be doubling down on the English and giving English the power over the Spanish.”

“And this was not going to happen on this film. I needed to respect the language enough not to subtitle it,” he concluded.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 07: Director Steven Spielberg speaks onstage at the Los Angeles premiere of West Side Story, held at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California on December 07, 2021. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for 20th Century Studios)

RELATED: West Side Story Screenwriter Tony Kushner Describes Film As “Anti-Racist, Democratic Musical”

Not only does the film not feature English subtitles for the Spanish-speaking portions of the film, but the film’s screenwriter Tony Kushner also revealed a number of changes this new version makes.

He told The Hollywood Reporter, “There are things in the [new] screenplay that are true to what Arthur wrote, or actually lines that Arthur wrote. And then there’s an enormous amount that’s different.”

“I was sort of surprised to find that there was a lot of room for expanding certain aspects of all the characters, changing certain things, like Tony’s backstory, Maria’s backstory for that matter, Bernardo’s backstory, Riff’s,” he revealed.

Source: West Side Story

Kushner went on to detail that they replaced Doc with his widow played by Rita Moreno, “We changed one major character — my husband’s idea. I told him I was going to do West Side Story. He said, “What are you going to do about Doc?” Ned Glass is a wonderful actor, but we always found the Doc character in the movie a little Borscht Belt.”

“So he said, “I have a great idea: Change Doc into a Puerto Rican woman and offer the part to Rita Moreno,” he relayed.

He then added, “So I created this new character who was the widow of Doc, but who was Puerto Rican. And we offered to Rita, the first person we offered a part to, because I met her several times before I started working in the movie and I revere her.”

Source: West Side Story

He then went on to reveal that there is a third party to the gang war between the Jets and Sharks.

“I wanted to try and set up a slightly different premise — that this territory that’s being fought over is actually being taken away by a third party, by the Committee for Slum Clearance, using eminent domain,” he revealed.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 29: Alan Bergman, Bob Iger, Ansel Elgort, Corey Stoll, Rachel Zegler, Josh Andres Rivera, Steven Spielberg, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno, Brian d’Arcy James, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Kevin McCollum, Alan Horn, Bob Chapek, Kristie Macosko Krieger, and Tony Kushner attend the New York premiere of West Side Story on November 29, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for 20th Century Studios)

He also revealed changes to the songs, “Then I took the permission that I was given by the very generous rights-holders, and by Sondheim himself, to think about some of the songs slightly differently, and who sings them.”

“And I can’t give away secrets, but there are some big, I hope agreeable and effective, surprises in that,” he asserted.

NEXT: Film Scooper And Critic Claims Disney’s ‘Lightyear’ To Have “Substantial LGBT Representation”

Mentioned This Article:

More About: