West Side Story's Rita Moreno almost quit original film over offensive Puerto Rico lyrics

·TV Reporter
·2-min read
Rita Moreno as Valentina in 20th Century Studios' West Side Story. (Disney)
Rita Moreno as Valentina in 20th Century Studios' West Side Story. (Disney)

West Side Story star Rita Moreno has admitted she almost quit the original film over offensive lyrics about her native Puerto Rico in key song America.

Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 musical film, told of her horror when she saw the lyrics to the song that she performed with Bernardo (George Chakiris) which argues over whether the US or Puerto Rico is better.

Read more: West Side Story at 60 - the 10 best films based on musicals

Speaking on ABC News special Something's Coming: West Side Story, she remembered: “One day before we actually started rehearsals, I looked at the score and there it is… ‘Puerto Rico, you ugly island. Island of tropic diseases.’.

“It felt awful. It felt horrible. And I thought, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t do this to my people.’ I got this close to not doing it.”

Rita Moreno as Valentina in 20th Century Studios' West Side Story (Disney)
Rita Moreno returns to the cast. (Disney)

However, Moreno, now 89, said that her part in the film was saved when Stephen Sondheim changed the words during rehearsals and she got a new script that did not leave her morals torn.

She said: “Within days, I got [a] new script. And when I looked at America, it went, ‘My heart’s devotion, let it sink back in the ocean.’ And I was saved.”

Moreno is also due to appear in the rebooted Steven Spielberg version of the film, where she will play new character Valentina, while Ariana DeBose takes on her original role.

If the new West Side Story is nominated for Oscars as initial reaction to the film suggests it will be, Moreno could break a number of awards records.

Read more: The places West Side Story is banned over trans character

She is still the only Latina star to win an acting Oscar, and would become the first female Latina actor to be nominated twice.

It also gives her the potential to become the oldest Oscars nominee, the first actor to win for a new role in a film remake, and the longest time span between first and last nominations at 60 years.

Watch: Rita Moreno and Ariana DeBose on playing Anita

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting