There’s been a LOT of hype about Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. It’s currently sitting at 95% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes so far. The film opens this Friday and if it can do a solid box office, it’s almost guaranteed, not just for a Best Picture Oscar nomination but multiple nominations across the board – maybe the most nominations of any film in the field. This is Spielberg, after all.
But did you know that no actress has ever won an Oscar in a Spielberg movie? Actor? Yes. Most recently I think it’s Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) and Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln). But not an actress…although some are wondering whether or not Rachel Zegler might break through with a nomination. If so, she’d be an underdog, but a nomination is not impossible, not at all. Hollywood loves this kind of actress journey – first film, an against-all-odds discovery, working with a legendary director, playing one of the most well-known roles from one of the most well-known musicals…
As we’ve been saying the last several weeks, the Oscar race looks really open and really competitive. To get in the final five Oscar Best Actress nomination, Rachel would have to take on some heavyweights – Nicole Kidman, Olivia Colman, Penelope Cruz, Jessica Chastain, and also Kristen Stewart and Lady Gaga. But she’s also got a lot of momentum right now. And, of course, the Spielberg factor, especially within the Academy. Will be really interesting to check in on the weekend box office on Monday.
There’s another headline going around about West Side Story right now, just in time for its release. People are talking about Spielberg’s decision not to subtitle the Spanish dialogue. In a recent interview he said that, he did it “out of respect for the inclusivity of our intentions to hire a totally Latinx cast to play the Sharks’ boys and girls” and further explained that, “If I subtitled the Spanish I’d simply be doubling down on the English and giving English the power over the Spanish. This was not going to happen in this film, I needed to respect the language enough not to subtitle it.”
And “IndieWire’s senior film critic David Ehrlich called Spielberg’s decision to omit subtitles a “genius” move that “offers [this take on the material] a richer sense of context than any previous version of the show has been allowed before.” Ehrlich added of the movie, “It’s a wonderful musical, and an unabashed Steven Spielberg movie. And the moments in which it most comfortably allows itself to be both of those things at once leave you convinced that some harmonies are worth waiting for.”
Basically, if you’re paying attention to the emotion and the acting, you should be able to understand what’s been conveyed in the scene – and what I love this is that it requires active viewing. So that the audience experience is a participatory one. You’re there to pay attention, to engage with the story. The filmmaker is not ever going to intentionally make it so that there’s no way to understand what’s happening, it goes against a storyteller’s instinct. If Spielberg has taken this choice, it means that you should be able to get it if you’re fully present as a viewer while respecting the culture of the community being portrayed. So this is another dimension to the ongoing subtitle conversation that we’ve been having in entertainment, with Squid Game and Parasite before it.
Attached – photos from the West Side Story premiere in LA last night.