West Side Story is back on the big screen, this time under the eye of Steven Spielberg for today’s generation. The movie faithfully retells the story of the Broadway musical, along with including some modern updates, one of which being a noticeable creative choice. When the Puerto-Rican portion of the cast speaks in Spanish, there are no subtitles for viewers without knowledge of the language to follow along with. The decision is creating discourse online, with the Latinx community specifically praising the film for this detail.
When we say the Spanish dialogue doesn’t include subtitles, these aren’t just throwaway lines either. There are numerous scenes that have its central characters saying Spanish lines in major moments in the movie, which non-Spanish viewers may not fully understand, but could certainly pick up on the overall meaning based on English speakers in the scene and such.
Why The New West Side Story Does Not Have Subtitles
From the beginning of West Side Story’s development, Steven Spielberg’s casting calls asked for actors to be Spanish-speaking in an effort to make this new version more authentic to its subject matter. The first West Side Story adaptation in 1961 was troublingly not diverse, with Rita Moreno being the only Puerto-Rican actress in a movie with half of its roles named as Puerto-Rican.
Steven Spielberg has yet to comment on the creative choice, but there’s a host of reasons why it’s a great decision. For one, it immerses its audience into the circumstance of the film. West Side Story is all about cultural divides and New York City young people learning to live among one another and language barriers often cause frustrations. For non-Spanish speakers, it places them in the position of the characters, who have to rely on expressions and the few words they may know to help them out.
The movie was first screened this past week for early audiences, who are praising West Side Story. CinemaBlend’s own Eric Eisenberg awarded the film a 4.5 out of 5 stars in our review. As the movie was viewed by people, this aspect of the film became a discussion online. Here’s one reaction:
the most notable thing for me in this version of the #WestSideStory film: the Puerto Rican characters speak in Spanish quite often, without subtitles, without re-saying what they’ve said in English.Viewing audiences as culturally nuanced makes your stories more authentic.November 30, 2021
It’s not often that the Spanish language gets such a platform in a major release. There’s an element of respect some of the Latinx community feels for the decision already, and they’re grateful for Spielberg for making it.
steven spielberg a king for not including subtitles in the spanish dialogue for his west side story, very bold and non-compromising. make these losers try and decipher what the boricuas are saying along with the rest of the latinx pic.twitter.com/33bsDSfhvHNovember 30, 2021
Now, of course, there are people who are not happy with this decision, and as the movie rolls out, it may get some criticism from viewers for being inaccessible. Some English-speakers are sharing how the experience was positive for them even not knowing what the characters are saying some of the time.
I only understood bits and pieces of the Spanish dialogue without subtitles in #WestSideStory, but it didn’t upset me, given the intended social message. Past that, I’m just going to shut up while the folks who are touched by the film’s authentic approach to language enjoy it.December 1, 2021
As someone who has viewed the movie, taken some Spanish, but is not fluent in the language, I will urge you to not let this stop you from going out to see West Side Story. There are a few moments where you might be confused, but it does not damper the experience; it actually enriches it. West Side Story hits theaters on December 10.
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