Ariana DeBos is West Side Story’s first Afro-Latina Anita

Ariana Debos as Anita in 20th Century Studios' West Side Story.  Photo by Nico Tavernis.  © 2021 20th Century Studio.  All rights reserved.

Ariana Debos, who plays the character of Anita New story of the west movie (which hits theaters on December 10), directed by Steven Spielberg and written by screenwriter Tony Kushner, is really proud of how the remake portrays the Puerto Rican community. The second full-length film adaptation of the famous Broadway show essentially fixes everything that went wrong with the original 1961 film. Not only are all Puerto Rican characters actually played by Latinx actors, unlike the original, which cast mostly white actors in brown faces, but it also touches on the diversity and nuance that exists within Latinx culture.

The role of Debos is bold, beautiful and unapologetic. Anita is a close friend of the shark leader, Bernardo’s girlfriend, and his sister, Maria. In the original film, she was played by Rita Moreno, which earned her an Oscar. But in this version, Anita is also Afro-Puerto Rican, highlighting the racial diversities that are so present in the Puerto Rican community but are often erased from mainstream films.

“It was very important to me that we address this. It’s something I brought up in my audition,” DeBoss told POPSUGAR exclusively. “And I told Steven [Spielberg]’You know, if you’re not willing to explore and accept this identity in the context of the script, I don’t think you should be hiring me. Maybe I’m not the girl for you.’ Because it’s so rare that you see an Afro-Latina playing a major role as an integral part of the plot. She’s supportive, but she’s so important to everything that happens in this community, and she really packs a punch by the end of this thing.”

Broadway veteran, Joe . is also the original artist of Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s hamilton ensemble, shared how she was able to pour her own experience of being a Latina of Afro-Puerto Rican heritage into the role. It was important for her to show the audience how Anita’s journey differs from some of the other Puerto Rican characters because of her dark skin.

“I really approached the task of being African-Latinx – unattainably Black. I came from a lived experience, a different time in my life, of not being made to feel good enough,” she said. “As a result, I’ve struggled to assimilate myself in different ways, and I kind of identify with Anita. I wanted to explore her need to assimilate, and she would feel by the end of it. That’s the thing that’s taken everything from him. You saw his American dream shattered from him in the space of a day and a half — charming. But I was really backed by that longing — that journey.”

(LR): Ilda Mason as Luz, Ariana Debos as Anita, and Anna Isabel as Rosalia in the 20th century studio's West Side Story.  Photo by Nico Tavernis.  © 2021 20th Century Studio.  All rights reserved.

DeBos wanted to use his character of Anita not only to touch on the racism that existed between white and Puerto Rican communities west of Manhattan, but to address it as well. colorism Which is also present within Latinx communities. In a particular scene where Bernardo and Maria are arguing in the kitchen – the dialogue is mostly in Spanish – Anita asserts herself and at one point refers to herself as “Preeta”, a term often used in a derogatory manner. is done (depending on which part of Latin America you are from) insulting or insulting black people or anyone with dark skin. DeBos shared with us the intention behind Anita’s use of that word.

“I liked the inclusion of the word ‘Preeta’ because it’s so specific to the community. It’s a very specific word. Colorism is very real, and we in the entertainment industry never talk about it,” she said. “It was really cool to feel heard. It was a very inclusive set. It’s an example of how this lived experience was not only received but allowed to inform the character and it really took off from the plot.” What was meant. Because you also see it’s reflected in the conversation with Lt. Schrank. He says some really nasty things to him in that moment – it’s very rude. There are subtle aggressions. It’s something that we do every day. Days experience. Our lived experiences get invalidated every day, so it was nice to feel confirmed that we’re not crazy and that astral attacks are real, and that’s what I have to say about that.”

Ariana DeBos as Anita and David Alvarez as Bernardo in the 20th century studio's West Side Story.  Photo by Nico Tavernis.  © 2021 20th Century Studio.  All rights reserved.

While the original film focused on the tensions that existed between white and Puerto Rican communities in the late 1950s, it delved deeper into what was really happening with these groups struggling to coexist in NYC during that time. fails to go in. But the remake goes out of its way to address this. And Anita’s character highlights the racism and discrimination Puerto Ricans living in NYC were facing, but twofold if you were a darker-skinned Puerto Rican. It’s a point of view that even Moreno, as iconic as Anita, was not able to offer.

Ariana DeBos on the importance of Afro-Latinx representation in the West Side Story remake
Originally posted on POPSUGAR Latina

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