What Do You Get When You Cross a Colombian with a European? A Shark?

Based on the rave reviews, it sounds great. It looks great!

The commotion over Maria’s casting is still a puzzle to me. Critics suggested that the 1962 movie didn’t reflect Puerto Rican culture. This was partly because many of the Puerto Rican characters such as the “Sharks,” and those in their circle were played mostly by non-Puerto Rican actors.

So, as I noted a while back on Volokh, director Steven Spielberg hired all sorts of cultural and diversity consultants and this is what he and they came up with:

“When this was started a year ago we had announced we would cast Maria, Anita Bernardo Chino, Chino and Sharks with Latina/Latino actors. Spielberg stated that she is so pleased that the cast reflects America’s rich Hispanic talent. “I was astonished by the incredible talent displayed by these young actors. I think they will add a fresh and exciting energy to an amazing musical that is more current than ever.” ….

I am thrilled to be taking on the role of Maria along with such an amazing cast,” he said. [Rachel] Zegler. “West Side Story was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character. Colombian-American I feel humbled to have the chance to be a part of something that is so important to the Hispanic community.

At the time, I comment at Instapundit:

Why is it that Puerto Rican characters on West Side Story must be played by Latinos but not Italian characters, especially considering the New York demographics and Sicilian population? Is it politically acceptable to have a Colombian American play the role of a Puerto Rican? Other than different languages of Spanish, what do Colombia and Puerto Rico share in common? Casting an actor who speaks English from India or the US would be “authentic”, if you wanted to portray an Australian in 1960. It’s not insulting to say that all Spanish-speaking nations are interchangeable.

Zegler turns out to be only half-Columbia. His father was Polish and he is also of Irish, German and Italian descent. Zegler is of Puerto Rican ancestry. The Jets, on the other hand, are a mixed race. This means that Zegler fits more in with the Jets and Sharks, except that not all Latinos subgroups could be considered interchangeable. For what it is worth, sixty-two per cent of Colombian Americans referred to their race as white on the 2000 census, which was one of the highest percentages of Hispanics.

Retrospectively, I recognize that the main issue is to ensure that Latino actors don’t get overlooked in favor of other roles. If the problem is cultural sensitivity to Puerto Ricans then I don’t understand why Puerto Ricans would prefer a half Russian, half Armenian actress to play Maria (Natalie Wood). They are both Puerto Ricans.

The post was about to be ended. However, when I thought more, some might see Hispanics in a race. Zegler, based on the American historical norm of “White And”, is playing the role of a character from the same race. This norm is not something I like, and I don’t find it congenial to think that Hispanics who are multiracial, just as Americans, are a race.