Why “West Side Story” does not have subtitles for the Spanish dialogue – .

Why “West Side Story” does not have subtitles for the Spanish dialogue – .

  • “West Side Story”, released Friday, contains scenes spoken in Spanish without subtitles.
  • During the film’s press conference, Steven Spielberg explained that the move was deliberate.

One of the most unexpected surprises of Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” is that unlike the original film, Spanish is spoken on screen and not just in throwaway lines.

While not a major part of the film, non-Spanish speaking viewers may be shocked that the remake does not include subtitles.

It’s on purpose.

Speaking at the film’s virtual press conference, which Insider attended last month, Spielberg said, “It’s out of respect that we haven’t captioned any Spanish. This language was to exist in equal proportions alongside unassisted English. “

The film follows the unfortunate romance between Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler) in New York City in 1957, which causes a rift between two warring gangs, the Caucasian Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks.

Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez in “West Side Story” as Anita and Bernardo.

Niko Tavernise / 20th century studios

Whenever Spanish is spoken on screen, Lieutenant Schrank, who Spielberg says is “clearly a racist”, tells anyone conversing in Spanish in the film to speak English.

“That leaves it up to the public’s mind to decide whether they’ll pay more attention because you can pretty much say what they’re saying,” said star and executive producer Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for her performance as Anita in 1961’s “West Side Story”, Decision.
As Moreno suggested, if you’ve taken a Spanish course or two, there’s not much you can’t figure out with contextual clues. But there are a few little asides where non-Spanish speaking audiences can miss a joke.

Spielberg wouldn’t mind. If anything, hopefully it creates curiosity for those looking for what is said.

“I also want the audience, the Spanish speaking audience, the English speaking audience, to sit together in the theater so that the English speaking audience suddenly hears laughter coming from the theater pockets of the Spanish speaking audience,” Spielberg said.

Rachel Zegler and Rita Moreno at the premiere of West Side Story in Los Angeles

Rachel Zegler and Rita Moreno at the premiere of West Side Story in Los Angeles on December 7, 2021.

Jesse Grant / Getty Images for 20th Century Studios

To Spielberg’s point, screenwriter Tony Kushner added, “We are a bilingual country. ”
“We’re sure,” Spielberg said.

While this choice may irritate or confuse some monolingual viewers, the movement is brilliant given the context of the film.

Throughout “West Side Story” all Puerto Ricans are constantly told to “speak English” because the cops and Jets refuse to take the time to understand them.

By making this creative choice, Spielberg challenges his audience to “speak Spanish” and no longer ignore a culture that represents 19% of the US population (62.1 million) in 2020.

It’s a bold and brilliant choice, one that other directors might not have gotten away with. Hopefully this is a move that emboldens others to follow Spielberg’s lead in the future.

“West Side Story” is in theaters Friday. You can read our review here.


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