Sixty years after its original release, the award-winning musical West Side Story has come back to the big screen. Despite taking place in the 1960’s, the film brings to light problems that still exist today. Here are four lessons we can learn from the film.
Written by: Camila Vega – January 27th, 2022 6:10 pm pst
West Side Story is a modern take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The musical is set in New York, where two rivaling street gangs—The Jets and The Sharks— stand in the way of Tony and Maria’s love. Despite the original film’s incredible success, Steven Spielberg’s remake updated themes and brought 2021 social problems into the mix.
1. Racism only creates more problems
Hatred and racism are the main causes of the musical’s tragic plot. For starters, the two gangs are divided because of race. “The Sharks” are made up of Puerto Rican immigrants, while “The Jets” are white. In most of their encounters, the rivaling gangs speak with racial slurs such as “spiks” and “gringos”.
Even though both gangs had a lot in common, they were blinded by hatred. Tensions between the two only increased when Tony and Maria fell in love. Their love story unleashed a series of tragic events brought about solely by racism and discrimination. The movie’s tragic ending reveals the devastating consequences that racism can have in the lives of people.
2. The American Dream is hard
West Side Story shows the hardships of the American dream. The song “America” is a great depiction of the struggles immigrants face. Even though it sounds simplistic, the musical number has a very powerful message. In the upbeat song, the characters describe the idea of moving to America vs. the reality of it.
3. There is a price behind progress
The musical’s opening scene is an aerial shot of New York in ruins—abandoned buildings, gloomy colors, dirt, etc. This most recent version of West Side Story shows the realities behind today’s modern buildings and city lights.
Both gangs consider Upper West Side Manhattan their home. Throughout the film, they constantly fight for control over the turf. Despite their endless battle, they are never going to gain any type of control. Big investors are creating large buildings, and neither gang has a say in it.
4. Guns are “Mutually assured destruction”
The 2021 musical remake portrays Riff, the Jets leader, as childish and somewhat naïve. Throughout the movie, he makes poor choices that create terrible consequences.
When Riff chooses to buy a gun, the shopkeeper says it is “mutually assured destruction”. Riff sees the gun as a toy and as power, but his friend Tony is somewhat scared of it.
In the song “Cool”, the two fight over the gun. Tony is the voice of reason, while Riff wants the power. The pair’s tragic ending shows the dangers of guns in the wrong hands.
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The West Side Story remake did a great job of bringing a classic film into today’s social context. Through its unique plot, diverse characters, and dramatic storyline, this is still a must-watch today!