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.”
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.