West Side Story
West Side Story is a concept that is derived from the retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story as East Side story, with a Jewish boy and a Catholic girl playing the star-crossed lovers" trope (Brown). The musical turned movie centers around the themes of love, hope, prejudice, belonging, and American identity and was supposed to mirror the author's struggles against homophobia and antisemitism. The concept of West Side Story is close to Abe's Irish Rose, a play that was fairly popular in the 1920s with a similar theme, and thus East Side story was set to the side until the 50's when gang violence was heavily circulating and the source of the problem was placed (Trask) on Puerto Ricans even though they were considered model minorities in Chicago. Thus, the two lovers transitioned into a Polish boy and a Puerto Rican girl. Therefore, "transferring the story of forbidden love to transitioning immigrant neighborhoods, and placing the drama and tragedy of ethnic and racial intolerance onto New York's streets gave Shakespeare's tragedy modern relevance in the era of the Red Scare and civil rights conflict," (Trask).
West Side Story Presents: Problematic
Often time in media, the aesthetics, and visual appeal distract the audience from the racism held within the films. That was certainly the case in West Side Story; the music, dances, romantic melodrama, and exoticism of cultural otherness distract from the racism held in the movie and thus push harmful stereotypes and justify White hegemony while the audience is further entertained. Hegemonic whiteness is a conceptual framework that’s a resolution to the analytic dilemma that there is a shared groupness to outwardly different white identities which has the potential to destabilize the recent trend that over-emphasizes white heterogeneity at the expense of discussion of power, racism, and discrimination. Hegemonic whiteness is further understood as “…race can be simultaneously Janus-faced and multifaceted—and [can] also produce a singular dominant social hierarchy (Hughey).
Though it was not the initial intention of West Side Story creators, the depiction and interpretation of Puerto Ricans in New York City. They aimed to shape a story surrounding sympathy for the discrimination and prejudice against Puerto Rican immigrants but failed to do any real research and in-depth study of how to incorporate authentic cultural depictions into the film. The body language, accents, and darkened skin of actors portraying "Puerto Rican" sharks were quite disturbing. White actors in brown faces, with Hollywood Spanish accents, tight colorful clothing that emphasizes their sexuality and exoticism, and Latin Jazz hybrid to represent Puerto Rican culture but has no resemblance to actual Puerto Rican music (Brown). So, where actual Puerto Rican culture is a central portion of West Side Story, no Puerto Rican culture was represented rather there was an overemphasis on the Hollywood washed down version of Latinos.