West Side Story tells the doomed 1950s romance of Tony, a former member of the white gang the Jets, and Maria, the sister of the leader of the Puerto Rican Sharks in New York City. Tony and Maria meet at a school dance and fall madly in love, sparking a bloody gang war that ends in tragedy. Inspired by Romeo & Juliet, the musical was made into a film in 1961, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins.
Speaking to Vanity Fair, the director elaborated on his vision of the second film adaptation of the storied musical. “This story is not only a product of its time, but that time has returned, and it’s returned with a kind of social fury,” Spielberg told Vanity Fair. “I really wanted to tell that Puerto Rican, Nuyorican experience of basically the migration to this country and the struggle to make a living, and to have children, and to battle against the obstacles of xenophobia and racial prejudice.” While the 1961 film is widely acclaimed, much of the cast was white, including the Puerto Rican characters. For the new film, Spielberg cast only Hispanic actors in the Puerto Rican roles. Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 film, appears in the 2020 adaptation as a new character, Valentina.
West Side Story is currently scheduled to hit theaters on December 18.