Rita Moreno Revealed She Refused To Sing The Original Lyrics To “America” Because They Were Highly Offensive To Puerto Rico
EGOT winner Rita Moreno has been leading up the mic lately. Whether its speaking out about the fate of the beloved former Netflix show “One Day At A Time” or thanking fans for recognizing her work over the years while accepting a Peabody Award, the Boricua has proved she’s got quite a bit to say. This week, the Latina icon shared her excitement for the upcoming remake of West Side Story and decision to put her foot down during filming for the original film when lyrics about her homeland, Puerto Rico, proved to be racist and disparaging.
In a recent interview with Hollywood Reporter, Moreno revealed that she had refused to sing the lyrics created by composer Stephen Sondheim at one point during filming.
Moreno revealed that as director Steven Spielberg headed to Puerto Rico to have a conversation with Puerto Ricans about their issues with the original film, there were quite a few concerns about Anita’s speech before singing “America.”
“There’s a lot that’s interesting about the objection to that number. In defense of the original, some people choose to be offended by the things that are said about Puerto Rico — but they completely disregard that it’s one native’s point of view,” Moreno explained. “Which is why the number turns into a song that’s really insulting America. ‘Puerto Rico, my heart’s devotion, let it sink back in the ocean’ … that one really clings to people’s hearts. It still does. But let me sing you the original three lines: (Singing) ‘Puerto Rico, you ugly island, island of tropic diseases.’ That is venal.”
Moreno revealed that she was so insulted by the lyric she told Sondheim she would walk off set if it wasn’t changed.
“I wanted this part so badly, so badly. But a few weeks after I got it, I suddenly remembered that lyric. Nobody knows this, but I said, ‘Those words won’t come out of my mouth.'” I was going to give it up on principle, not because I was brave — but because I couldn’t bear the thought of doing this to my people,” she explained. “But then [Stephen] Sondheim changed the lyric.”
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