“Some children see Him bronzed and brown, The Lord of heav’n to earth come down. Some children see Him bronzed and brown, With dark and heavy hair.” from the Christmas carol, “Some Children See Him,” by James Taylor
When I was in fifth grade, the movie “West Side Story” was released amidst great fanfare. News of this modern version of “Romeo and Juliet” even reached my tender ears in small town Minnesota where I lived. My brother and I pooled our babysitting and lawn-cutting money to purchase the record album together. And then we played it on the stereo, over and over and over again which drove my parents crazy. By the time the movie finally came to our little hamlet, we knew every lyric, fingersnap, and syncopated instrumentation by heart. When written on the memory at such a young age, one never forgets.
Since 1961, I have probably seen “West Side Story” a hundred times, both the movie version and on stage. I was even in a production when I was in college. When I heard about a redo of this timeless classic, I was both excited and dubious. I am not a big fan of attempts to update classic films but I was willing to give this beloved one a try. One of my Christmas gifts from my daughters was the promise to see the film together which this year was a momentous event. We had not been in a theatre since the onset of the pandemic and so we went the very next day.
I was enthralled from the first aerial shot of New York City tenements and heard the familiar startling notes of the overture. With Stephen Spielberg as the director, I anticipated some creative surprises and was not disappointed. He stayed true to the music and dancing but added some intriguing twists and turns that I really did love. What really stood out was the appearance of so many LatinX performers. They lent an authenticity about the story that was missing from the old version. The gangs were much dirtier, grittier, and more believable, even when they were pirouetting through construction sites. Rita Moreno singing “Somewhere” in the drugstore as the Puerto Rican widow of Doc, the Jewish proprietor, brought tears to my eyes. A poignant and powerful statement about the prevalence of prejudice throughout many generations, this scene is one I will never forget.
Sometimes I feel very naive when it comes to understanding prejudice, having grown up in a town that had absolutely no diversity. When I moved to California in the 1970s, I learned lessons from living in several barrio neighborhoods in Santa Ana. Suddenly surrounded by Spanish-speaking friends and neighbors, I ate homemade tamales and burritos, and went to quinceañeras and posadas. I also experienced angst about my undocumented friends who always seemed to be doing everyone’s dirty work. I grew painfully aware of drugs, gangs, and the shadow side of immigration with a permeable border only sixty miles away.
What does the movie “West Side Story” have to say about the state of prejudice today? I hate to admit it but it seems like we have not made much progress. We still have gang members killing each other on the streets. We still have poor people pushed out of their homes in the name of gentrification. There are still stigmas about marrying outside racial lines. Recently, someone asked me if I thought women are better off today than they were before the 1960s. Yes, I answered, but we still have a long way to go. Perhaps the same can be said of prejudice. We still have a long way to go.
Don’t miss “West Side Story” on the big screen. You will be swept away by its electricity and drawn into the timeless struggle of learning what it means to truly love our neighbors.
2 thoughts on “MOVIES ON THE NINTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS”
I wasn’t allowed to see West Side Story when it first came out, all my friends could. Grew to love this musical.
Well that certainly convinced us to buy tixs for tonight’s show! I use to play Maria & the play’s other hit songs on the piano…loved them too plus the dancing! Thanks for the 💡 idea!!!