West Side Story: Old vs. New


As many know, a remake of the classic film West Side Story has been released and in theaters since Dec. 10. The film is about two rival gangs, the Sharks and the Jets that fight over their turf. But Maria, the sister of a Shark, and Tony, a retired member of the Jets, seem to fall in love. The movie is similar to a modern day Romeo and Juliet. But there was some controversy over whether this movie was a good edition to theaters. Many people think Steven Spielberg’s 2021 West Side Story was fantastic and very well produced, while others argue that this movie doesn’t compare to the 1961 film.
In the new movie, Spielberg eliminated some of the main elements and tried to ‘fix’ things that don’t fit into modern society such as the depiction and racism towards the Puerto Rican characters. Although it is wrong, people may think this made the movie less authentic because it lessened the rivalry between the Sharks and Jets. But, Spielberg also eliminated ‘brownface’ in his new film. Originally, the Sharks and other Latinos were played by white people with body paint. This is definitely a good change Spielberg made because that is no longer acceptable in today’s society.
One could also argue that Spielberg’s way of Tony and Maria meeting isn’t up to standards. In the original, they meet at a late night dance. When watching, you can feel the passion from the dancing in the background and from Tony and Maria as well as the dark walls and dim lighting of the gym they were in. In the 2021 version, they meet face to face behind bleachers which doesn’t show their connection as well. I think this makes their connection seem less than what it is because they don’t show their love for each other as well.
Adding on, many of the singing and dancing scenes were changed, such as the prologue which was originally the Jets and Sharks causing mayhem and sabotaging each other. It was then changed to be focusing on just the Jets committing crimes. Some more song scenes that changed were “America”, “Cool”, and “Somewhere”. These small features were what made the original film so good and this newer version made it less than the greatness of the original.
The last aspect of the movie that I want to talk about is Anybodys. If you don’t know, Anybodys is a character (who appears as trans) that wants to join the Jets throughout the whole movie. In the original, they tell the Jets that they are a boy but the gang continues to call them a girl and are overall rude and transphobic to them. In the end of the movie, Anybodys figures out important information and is accepted into the Jets but is still treated terribly. In the updated version, Anybodys is played by a non-binary actor, and is transgender in the film. In the end of Spielberg’s movie, they are accepted into the Jets with way less transphobia and cruelty. The aspect of misgendering the character was pretty much taken out completely in Spielberg’s film which, similarly to the racism, could be seen as a good or bad thing. It’s a good thing because in modern day society, transphobia is much less acceptable as it used to be, so people may not have wanted to see this in a film. But on the other hand, since the film takes place in the mid 1900’s, it represents how people acted in that time. For some, seeing the culture of the time makes the movie what it is. Ultimately, it’s up to the viewer.
Overall, there are upsides and downsides to this new movie. I think it was a great movie but there were definitely lots of changes. Some were probably for the better but others maybe shouldn’t have been changed. I think some of the changes I pointed out really took away from the story. But in the end, everyone has their own opinion. So, what do you think? Was it a good edition to theaters? Did it live up to the standards of the original movie?