‘West Side Story’ Casting Does It Right By Giving Us Rachel Zegler As Maria And Afro-Latina Ariana DeBose As Anita

credit: United Artists rachelzegler/ Instagram

Aspects of “West Side Story” might not have aged well in the almost 60 years since its debut, but there’s no denying the beloved film’s position in the classic movie canon. It’s why, when talks of a “West Side Story” remake by Steven Spielberg began to occur last summer, fans of the original film helmed by directors Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins and starring actresses Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno, fans of the original film proved to be less than thrilled. Reasons for the knee-jerk objections to the remake ran the gamut with many of them stemming from fears that a white director like Spielberg being incapable of properly addressing the problems of the original film which included brownface and a mass of shameful Latino stereotypes. This week, after production for the film, announced the actors for the main cast of the film, fans of the 1961 film are resting a bit easier.

On Monday, production for the remake announced that after auditioning over 30K actors from across the globe, they have officially filled out their main cast and fans are not feeling let down.

CREDIT: United Artists

The original adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, the Romeo-and-Juliet-like story tells of the star-crossed love between Tony, a former member of the white gang known as the Jets, and Maria, the younger sister of the leader of a Puerto Rican gang. Oscar-nominated screenwriter and Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner has written the adaptation of the musical originally penned by Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim with music by Leonard Bernstein.

Spielberg and his team have shown to a commitment to filling out a strong and authentic cast worthy of the adaptation by searching for their actors within the Puerto Rican and extended Latinx community. Doing their due diligence for the film, Speilberg, and writers from the film reportedly met with professors and students from Universidad de Puerto Rico – Río Piedras to garner a better understanding of performing arts on the island. They have also kept an open door of communication with Hispanic heritage and advocacy groups who have helped the filmmakers behind the remake with conducting research in regards to the Latino characters of the film and their storylines.

Speaking to Deadline about his approach to casting and researching the film, Spielberg said that “When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community… I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they’ll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that’s more relevant than ever.”

Newcomer Rachel Zegler is set to play star-crossed lover Maria.

CREDIT: rachelzegler / Instagram

Rachel Zegler is a high school student who responded to the production’s opening casting call for actors with a video of herself singing “Tonight” and “Me Siento Hermosa.” The 17-year-old has built a dedicated following on Youtube and Twitter in recent years, showing off her musical chops to her fans on the platforms.

Zegler recently caught the attention of the internet when she shared a viral video of her showing off her pipes.

Zegler sang a rendition of “Shallow” from the Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper film “A Star Is Born.”

It’s not the first time Zegler will play Maria forever.

No doubt, Zegler’s upcoming role will garner her far more attention than this internet hit.

Broadway veteran Ariana DeBose will fill the shoes of Rita Moreno in the iconic role of Anita.

CREDIT: arianadebose / Instagram

The casting of 27-year-old Ariana DeBose is sure to increase excitement over the remake. Not only is the American actress, singer, and dancer of Puerto Rican-descent starred in the off-Broadway ensemble of Hamilton back in 2015 and in 2018 she received a Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as  Disco Donna in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. 

Also joining the film’s ensemble are David Alvarez as Bernardo and Josh Andrés Rivera has Chino.


Read: Remembering Miranda Sanchez On The 18th Anniversary Of ‘Lizzie McGuire’

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