West Side Story Receives Controversy For Excluding English Subtitles

Rachel Zegler as Maria in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY.

Steven Spielberg’s new film, West Side Story, adapts the classic stage musical of the same name. A rivalry between two rival gangs in New York City causes tension as one person from each side fall in love with each other like Romeo & Juliet. The 20th Century Studios film opened this past weekend. But in addition to doing poor at the box office opening weekend the film has also gotten some controversy over a creative decision that is dividing audiences who see it.

The groups are divided into two ethnic groups, The Jets (Caucasian) and The Sharks (Puerto Rican). The issue is that throughout the film a number of the Puerto Rican cast switches to speaking Spanish without adding English subtitles for when they do so. This decision makes it difficult for non-Spanish speaking audience members to understand what is going on.

In the original 1950s stage musical everything was in English. But it was Steven Spielberg who insisted that a good amount of dialogue from the Puerto Rican cast is in Spanish. This wouldn’t ordinarily be a bad thing, but without subtitles a good amount of context is lost. This decision has seemingly split audiences who went to see the film.

Why was this decision made? Spielberg spoke in an IGN article:

I didn’t want to subtitle any of the Spanish out of respect for the inclusivity of our intentions to hire a totally Latino, Latinx cast to play the Shark boys and girls. That was a mandate that I put down to Cindy Tolan, who cast the movie, that I’m not going to entertain any auditions of anybody who isn’t… Parents or grandparents or themselves from Latinx countries, especially Puerto Rico. We have 20 performers in our film from Puerto Rico or they are Nuyoricans. And that was very important. And that goes hand in hand for not subtitling the Spanish. If I subtitled the Spanish, I’d simply be doubling down on the English and giving English the power over the Spanish. And this was not going to happen on this film. I needed to respect the language enough not to subtitle it

So he didn’t include subtitles because it would “Giving English the power over the Spanish“. A very… odd reason.  Why not just subtitle the English parts with Spanish so speakers of both languages were able to understand?

Perhaps this played into it’s underwhelming $10 Million opening weekend? 

West Side Story is still playing in theaters if you are interested in a musical this Holiday season. But you probably will have a hard time watching certain parts of the film if you don’t also speak Spanish. 

Source: Bounding Into Comics 

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