Greetings again from the darkness. There she sits. Rita Moreno looks directly into the camera as she tells her own story. And what a story it is. She talks about the good times and bad. She recalls the challenges of being a Puerto Rican immigrant in a predominantly white industry. Documentarian Mariem Perez Riera understands there is no one who can tell Rita’s story better than Ms. Moreno herself, yet knows the story becomes even more powerful with the insight of others.
We get the background on her childhood, and what stands out is Rita’s admission that she was born to be a performer and danced professionally at age 6 (made her Broadway debut at age 13). It’s heart-breaking to hear her talk of breaking into movies, stating, there’s nobody “like me” up there. Forced to take “exotic” roles and speak with a heavy accent while wearing makeup “the color of mud”, Rita initially took every role she could. The prestige projects finally started to come: SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952), THE KING AND I (1956), and yes, WEST SIDE STORY (1961). Her role as Anita in the latter won her an Oscar, which shockingly, did not lead to more quality film roles.
It’s stunning to find out that she went seven years without making a movie, but Rita is never shy about her personal life … which includes being raped by her agent, and having a 7 year affair with Marlon Brando that resulted in an abortion and a suicide attempt. Rita is matter-of-fact about the low points, and positively glowing about the good stuff: her work and music on “The Electric Company” (with Morgan Freeman) earned her a Grammy, her stage performance in “The Ritz” won her a Tony, and “The Muppet Show” and “The Rockford Files” won her Emmys. If you are keeping score, that places Rita Moreno in rarified air – she’s an EGOT.
Two of the film’s producers, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Norman Lear also provide their own perspective, as do Rita’s daughter, fellow EGOT Whoopi Goldberg, her WEST SIDE STORY co-star George Chikiris, Mitzi Gaynor, and other Latinos who pay their respects, including Eva Longoria, Gloria Estefan, and Hector Elizondo. This is a profile and tribute to a woman who turns 90 this year and is still hard at work. Some of her recent work includes playing a nun on “Oz”, being a regular on “One Day at a Time”, and an upcoming role in the Steven Spielberg remake of WEST SIDE STORY … now that is what’s called “Full Circle”!
The American Dream didn’t come easy for Rita Moreno, but her commitment to her profession took her to the top not just an as EGOT, but also her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Kennedy Center Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She’s an energetic woman with amazing talent, and director Mariem Perez Riera includes some of Moreno’s work on the Civil Rights Movement and political issues. The film is part of the American Masters series on PBS, and I’ll leave you with this: “Hey, you guys!” … watch this movie!
In theaters June 18, 2021