West Side Story is an essential part of the Broadway musicals which were adapted on the big screen. In 1957 it was performed on stage for the first time and later made into a remarkable film in 1961. The story is about a gang of Irish teenagers battling with a group of Puerto Rican kids and a couple, both of whom are from either side, find themselves caught in the crossfire. The audience were astonished at the fact that someone like Steven Spielberg, known for his science-fiction cinema, would direct a classic which has been remade numerous times over the years. Screenplay written by Tony Kushner from Munich (2005) and Lincoln (2012) fame and choreographed by Justin Peck, this version of West Side Story is much better. The version of the film changes several elements of the 1961 Robert Wise’s film such as Spielberg abandoning the problematic practice of brownface by casting Hispanic actors.
Fortunately, in this remake the racists are portrayed in bad light and bigotry is called out. In fact, the new version of West Side Story tries to address topics which went unnoticed in the 1961 one. The film depicts gentrification taking place in the neighborhood, Irish pubs have been closed down due to the entry of bodegas and the Jets gang led by Riff, who is angry at anyone who doesn’t share his skin colour, collect paint cans to vandalise the Puerto Rican flag art. When the Sharks gang led by Bernardo see them do this, a fight ensues during which police officer Krupke and Lieutenant Schrank intervenes and explain that everyone will be evicted irrespective of race. Spielberg emphasises that the Jets are the bigoted instigators.
Unlike Wise, Spielberg’s version is more realistic as it is set around filthy and crowded streets and he understood that West Side Story is about ill-fated lovers Tony and Maria portrayed by Anel Elgort known for Baby Driver and Rachel Zegler. Film’s depiction of racism, murders and attempted sexual assault seem realistic. West Side Story is revived by a director who carefully makes a new version of the Broadway musical by having a well-informed screenplay and splending song sequences.