In college, I was cast in a dinner theatre production of West Side Story as Anita. Overjoyed, mostly because I remembered how fierce, strong and captivating Rita Moreno was in that role on the big screen, this caramel colored Black girl from the mid-west was ready to stretch and walk in the same shoes creatively as one of my idols. Due to scheduling conflicts, I never got the chance. For me, Anita was a character who represented what strength, determination and walking in your truth unapologetically looked like which was everything Rita Moreno stood for…and more.
The definition of the American dream means different things to different people. For my people, it means having the freedo, respect and dignity to navigate in and around this world without limittations. But, to what extent are we willing to pay the price? Fifty years ago, this Puerto Rican dreamer has found herself on the other side of hardships and experiences, that unfortunately, many women continue to endure, including myself.
Talented, energetic, and full of joy, Rita Moreno has been a dazzling diva for over 70 years. Whether on television (One Day At A Time, The Electric Company) or in the theatre (The Ritz), her artistry transcends, continuously reinventing herself and pushing creative limits. She is the original branding queen before folks even knew whaat that meant, which is why she has the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) status to prove it.
Director Mariem Pérez Riera gives audiences an intimate fly on the wall, cinematic journey detailing the life of a woman who truly embodies every iota of what an American Dream looks and sounds like on every visceral level. Laden with interview sfrom other major Latino talent like Eva Longoria, Gloria Estefan, Karen Olivo, George Chakiris, Lin-Manuel Miranda (also and Executive Producer) Justina Machado, as well as creative colleagues/friends like Whoopi Goldberg and Morgan Freeman, one can easily see that her talent, generosity and impactful stamps crosses generations and races. Riera’s use of paper dolls telling the story of “little Rosita” is brilliant and engagingly creative, as is, her determination to surround her subject with a mostly Puerto Rican set.
Moreno’s stories are awe-inspiring, jaw-popping and sometimes hilarious ranging from a 16 year-old immigrant emulating Elizabeth Taylor with hopes of meeting MGM Studio President Louis B. Mayer to the tumultuous relationship with Marlon Brando to rude advances from disgusting Hollywood execs to fighting for injustice for women and anyone deemed ‘other’ especially the Latino culture.
She heartbreakingly reveals intimate detail about the state of her crumbling marriage, yet revels in the joy of having a daughter to share makeup and shoe fetishes with. As a fellow actress, I could relate to the many stories in relation to makeup that ‘looked like mud’ and the inability of those in the industry refusing to not look beyond an accent or skin color to secure better roles as a ‘human being.” Rita would often take a role that was limited, challenged the stereotype and made one pay attention. Yet, somehow assist audiences in understanding the tragedy for Puerto Rican’s in Hollywood and aiding masses in understanding the injustice toward a culture that simply wanted to just exist as human. Also, unfortunately, relating to the manner directors and producers habitually belittle actors of color with their tone garnering much less respect and consideration than their white counterparts, realizing how very present that stinging reality is on sets to this day.
As a rape survivor, I could relate to the feeling of unhealed wounds having the scab repeatedly snatched off, feeling immense empathy when she spoke so lovingly about a man who loved her deeply, yet to both their detriments loved himself more. My heart bled for her having to revisit those wounds onscreen ultimately driivng her to the despair of attempting to leave this world deeming herself unworthy to live.
On the flip side, the hilarity in the ‘loser speech’ quips in thee limo ride to the Oscars where she and George Chakiris would go to make history in more ways than one – by delivering one of the shortest speeches in Academy Award history. At 89 years-old, this Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony winning beauty shows no signs of slowing down and has finally learned that there is no Interest in continually dragging her past into the present. My girl obviously sums it up best, “…damn the shadows and here’s to the light.” Produced by Roadside Attractions, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It is courageous, revelatory and a celebration of a magnetic, intriguing woman whose courage is an inspiration to all and is available only in theatre beginning June 18th.