The Puerto Rican expert made the western story a success this time

Virginia Sanchez Korrol was working as an English teacher in Chicago when she went to the theater to see the original West story the 1961 film. “When I saw the movie, I realized it really was the story of my life, because I was married to a non-Puerto Rican, and the family is very supportive,” she told Vanity Fair. “And we actually left the city to establish our own home, our own relationship.”

Sánchez Korrol, a New York native who is now a historian and professor emeritus at Brooklyn College, CUNY, says that discrimination against Puerto Ricans in the 1950s was “abominable in New York.” , so to see her people on the big screen in a movie is a great experience for her — though only one among the main roles were played by a real native of Puerto Rico. “Despite the makeup, the stereotypes, the kind of music that didn’t fit at one point — despite all the little things, the important thing was, ‘Wow, we could already see. We are seen for the first time in our experience. ‘”

In 2018, Sánchez Korrol got the chance to make her community more visible, invited to meet with the team behind a planned remake. West story. “I went and was introduced to people and then came back and there Steven [Spielberg] walk up the drum. And I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ And I didn’t say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ I said, “Why are you doing this?”

Sánchez Korrol, an expert on the history of the development of the Puerto Rican diaspora in the United States and wrote the book From Colonia to Community on this subject, sat on a panel with two other experts, and spoke with Spielberg, the screenwriter Tony Kushner and star and executive producer Rita Moreno about what it was like for Puerto Ricans in late 1950s New York. “I was hoping that they would correct the mistake,” she said. “I hope that any conversation about the film will show more clarity about the community at the time and also add authenticity to that community as a community of emerging migrants who have arrived. New York in large numbers right after the Second World. War.”

After that first meeting, she said, she “felt they took it very seriously” doing it, so she agreed to serve as a consultant on the new Disney film. Say said, “I know that Tony and Steven have had a number of films that are very focused on authenticity and social justice. And if someone is going to do it, they will. “

Then, Kushner asked her to read the script and take notes for him. She had plenty of responses, but said she was particularly impressed with the addition of the original version of the Puerto Rican national anthem, “La Borinqueña.” “I started analyzing history and found that ‘La Borinqueña’ with its revolutionary words, not modern-day words, fits the history. And it fits that moment, like a glove,” said Sánchez Korrol, who also helped Kushner as he created the base stories for all the characters.

After filming was complete, Sánchez Korrol listened to the actors’ recordings to make sure the accents were precise, down to the tiniest detail. The film features mostly Puerto Rican characters speaking in English and Spanish, with Spanish dialogue presented without subtitles. “They worked hard to get there, to speak with the right accent, with the right accent because there was a difference in how we, who were born in America, spoke Spanish and how our parents spoke Spanish. Spain, and then how the people on the island speak Spanish,” she said. “They’re very subtle, but someone from that group would know.”

The last movie, in theaters on December 10 and the stars Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort Sánchez Korrol said like Maria and Tony, is something to be proud of. “I like that they use Spanish without subtitles,” she said. “I love hearing Spanish spoken in the house the way it should be. That’s how we grew up. Anyone from an ethnic group can recently tell you that we speak both languages. And often, you’ve gotten to the point where the kids talk in English and the parents respond in Spanish. “

The film was well-received prior to opening but had a poor opening of $10.5 million at the box office, which also saw Moreno’s return in a new role, alongside his role as executive producer. So in the end, Sánchez Korrol, a fan of the 1961 film, united with one of the film’s original stars to tell their own history the right way, for the first time. “I think Rita and I are the two oldest women who worked on this film,” said Sánchez Korrol. “Imagine — two people from the decade working on this movie, where we lived through the movie and we missed it.”


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Aila Slisco is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Aila Slisco joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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