In New Documentary, Rita Moreno Talks the Racism, Sexism, and Discrimination She Faced in Her 70-Year Career
The new documentary “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” premiered at the virtual Sundance Film Festival on Friday. As you can probably guess, the film focuses on the indomitable EGOT-winning icon Boricua.
According to the film’s director, fellow Boricua Mariem Pérez Riera, the movie is supposed to offer a stripped-down and intimate portrait of the real Rita Moreno.
“We always knew that we wanted this documentary to not be just a showreel of her career and how great she is,” Pérez Riera told NBC News.
“When I make or watch a documentary, I want to be able to know that person more than just what I already know, so it was very important for me to go deeper and to understand her as a human being.”
Pérez Riera also explains how she was attracted to 89-year-old Moreno as subject because she related to Moreno’s struggles with discrimination and insecurity.
“I related to all she was saying, her stories about discrimination, the insecurities she felt because of the way others perceived her, the complicated love relationships, and the constant need to work three times harder to prove to others that she is worthy,” the filmmaker said.
Much of the documentary focuses on Moreno’s struggle against a racist and sexist industry that repeatedly pigeonholed and underestimated her.
At the start of her career, Moreno was only cast in roles of ambiguously brown characters–Native American, Filipino, Hawaiian, and Thai.
“I wanted to turn the parts down, but that’s all that was offered and I had to make a living,” Moreno reveals in the film. “I was kind of stuck.”
The documentary also features dozens of interviews of Moreno’s friends, fans, and previous co-workers, including Morgan Freeman, Gloria Estefan, Eva Longoria, Justina Machado, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and her “West Side Story” co-star, George Chakiris. Many of them reflect on the impact Moreno made on Hollywood.
Although Moreno has always been proud of her Puerto Rican heritage, she struggled with her sense of self-worth in Hollywood.
“When I went to Hollywood, I really learned where I stood in the world, and it was so sad and frustrating,” Moreno explained in an interview with the LA Times while promoting the documentary.
“There is something so awful about, if you were a performer, asking your agent to submit you for something and the people won’t even see you because they think you’re too Spanish or something. It’s so frustrating and you want to run and knock their door down and say: ‘Look, let me read this scene for you. I’m good. I’m really good. Let me. Watch me. Listen to me.'”
“Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” will air on PBS soon as part of their American Masters series. Details about premiere date and time TBD.
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