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Rita Moreno and Ariana DeBose Share Their Experiences Filming the Sexual Assault Scene In ‘West Side Story’

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After what feels like years of waiting, Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story” is finally out. And thankfully, it’s getting rave reviews. And one of the performers who is an exceptional stand out of the talented cast is Ariana DeBose, who plays the part of Anita — possibly the most universally beloved character from the musical.

And luckily for us, Rita Moreno — who won an Oscar for her 1961 portrayal of Maria’s BFF and confidante — is also appearing in the remake in the newly-created role of Valentina, who owns and runs the local drugstore that both the Sharks and the Jets frequent.

On the press tour for the new “West Side Story,” Moreno and DeBose have publicly discussed the surrealism of co-starring in a movie where they have both played the same iconic character.

Recently, the two Boricuas discussed their tough experiences of filming the harrowing scene in which Anita is almost gang-raped by the Jets.

The scene takes place when Anita comes to Doc’s drugstore to deliver important news about Tony. When she arrives, the Jets mock her accent and her ethnicity, call her misogynistic and racial slurs, assault her and pin her down. In the nick of time, Doc enters and prevents the Jets from carrying out the assault.

But in Spielberg’s version, Rita Moreno’s character, Valentina, acts as Anita’s rescuer. Both Rita Moreno and Ariana DeBose discussed their portrayals of Anita in a recent round-table discussion with Entertainment Weekly.

“The only thing that was not natural was trying to save Anita’s — this Anita’s — life,” said Moreno of revisiting “West Side Story” 60 years after it propelled her to stardom. “And in that scene, I suddenly become Doc. But I’m really playing Doc’s widow, Valentina.”

Moreno discussed how difficult it was for her to play the rescuer of the character that she still feels so close to. “I never could really get inside of the scene,” she said of the scene in Spielberg’s remake. “I was never able to really nail it because every time I looked, it wasn’t me. And it was just so bizarre. And I have no doubt that Ariana went through the same thing or similar. It was like deja vu, but not.”

DeBose also revealed her struggles in acting out the scene, calling the experience one she wouldn’t “wish on anyone.” “You never forget what it feels like to have that many bodies on top of you,” she said. “It’s something that I think every [actress who plays] Anita can connect over, but I don’t wish it on anyone.”

Recently, Moreno revealed that filming the assault scene in the original film was triggering for her, as she is a victim of rape at the hands of her talent agent when she was a teenager. And now, at 90-years-old, Moreno admits that the trauma from being sexually assaulted all those years ago is still with her.

“These are wounds that never quite healed,” she admitted. “I thought I was fine, and then suddenly, out of the blue, I burst into this hysterical crying.”

DeBose said that she knew of Moreno’s trauma when acting out the scene in front of her. “I was very aware of Rita’s experience that she’s shared with the world,” DeBose said. “Now, having played the part, you never forget what it feels like.”

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org. You can also text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to speak to a certified crisis counselor.

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