Rita Moreno is many things: An icon, an EGOT winner, a trailblazer. She’s also a total kick in the pants. To talk to her is like sitting down with a good friend who has some of the best stories around. And all of those stories are laid out in Moreno’s upcoming documentary “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It.” The doc, from Puerto Rican filmmaker Mariem Perez Riera, tells the story of Moreno’s rise to stardom and the harsh racism she experienced along the way.
Moreno, joined by director Riera and producer Brent Miller, discusses her lack of role models upon entering the industry. Though there had been Latina stars like Dolores del Rio and Lupe Velez, their careers were mostly done by the time Moreno entered the industry. So, the Puerto Rican actress modeled herself on Elizabeth Taylor.
Though there’s been an uptick in discussion about the need for more diverse voices, when it comes to Latinos Moreno says there’s still a heavy dose of factioning, with different countries unifying at the exclusion of others. The recent cancellation of Moreno’s sitcom, “One Day At a Time” is particularly bittersweet as it was, at the time, the only series with a Latino cast.
It’s ironic, especially considering Moreno remains one of two Latinas to win an Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy, as well as the only Latina nominated for Best Lead Actress in a Drama. But for Moreno, the awards don’t really matter, she says. She remembers all the awards she’s received — even a Cutest Star award back in her studio days — and they don’t diminish the work she’s done.
What becomes more significant is how Moreno has used her platform to fight for more diverse voices and, in some situations, still faces discrimination. She tells a story about running into a successful television star who fell back on outdated stereotypes when talking to her. It was a moment that Moreno was surprised by as it reiterated that some things haven’t changed enough.
Moreno will be seen this year, returning to the role that gave her an Oscar: “West Side Story.” The actress talked briefly about the wholly original character director Steven Spielberg created for her, and the significance of the movie, both good and bad.
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