Surprised by West Side Story

Not too long ago, we watched “In The Heights” for the first time. While I can’t escape the notion that it is not my story, the value lies in seeing common ideas in the stories of others. Taking the “other” and finding the parts that connect us. Having great music and clever lyrics really helped, and compensated for it being yet another story about New York (I’ve been, and it’s ok. It’s not Rome, or Barcelona, or London, or Paris, but it’s ok. It’s not Basingstoke, so that’s a plus.)

When I heard there was a new version of West Side Story coming out, I must admit I was a little stumped, not as incisive as Jessica :

She’s right, of course. We occasionally talk about “the definitive” this or that, and how remaking certain things would be “blasphemy”, but stories can grow and reinvent themselves for new eyes, new experiences.

I saw the original West Side Story movie many times. My dad had the record, and it played from time to time. My favourite production may have been the one my elementary school went to see at Eggars Secondary, but I only really loved that because the fatal shot never came from the prop gun, so the avenging actor had to say “uh..bang?”

Anyway, a remake? Why? But now we’re watching it, and it seems to me we’re getting a better deal for the Puerto Rican characters, they’re more rounded, more grounded, My Middle Weasel commented approvingly on the lack of subtitles for the spanish that is spoken. I feel the changes more than seeing them clearly, but it’s a good movie done well (and what else would you expect from Spielberg?)

And you know what else it points out? That America has always been racist. That the natural expression of an old story about a rivalry between two families has to become about race when transferred to America. A colony that grew with genocide, that thrived on slavery, that invited all-comers with a promise of freedom, only to treat them as less than human.

The golden age that Republican talking heads hark back to only ever existed for wealthy white folks.

One response to “Surprised by West Side Story

  1. True that re the white privilege, though in the US especially, conservative and white does you even better.

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