Steven Spielberg refused to subtitle Spanish in West Side Story to avoid giving ‘English the power’

During an interview with IGN, the legendary filmmaker discussed the importance of inclusive casting in his film adaptation of the classic.

Steven Spielberg refused to subtitle the Spanish dialogue in West Side Story to avoid giving “English the power”.

During an interview with IGN, the legendary filmmaker discussed casting choices for his new film adaptation of the classic stage musical, revealing his strict guidelines for casting the Sharks, who are Puerto Rican.

The 74-year-old filmmaker recalled telling casting director Cindy Tolan that he was not “going to entertain any auditions that aren’t (descended from) parents or grandparents or (are) themselves from Latinx countries.”

Spielberg put specific emphasis on looking for Puerto Rican actors, with his team ultimately hiring 20 performers from Puerto Rico or part of the Puerto Rican diaspora of New York.

He told the publication that the casting decision “was very important and goes hand-in-hand with my reasoning for not subtitling the Spanish” in the film.

“If I subtitled the Spanish I’d simple be doubling down on the English and giving English the power over the Spanish,” he explained. “This was not going to happen in this film. I needed to respect the language enough not to subtitle it.”

West Side Story, which hits theatres on Friday, comes 60 years after the original film adaptation, which has since drawn criticism for casting non-Latinx actors in Latinx roles and for darkening the skin tone of lead actress Rita Moreno, who returns in the remake as a shopkeeper.

Spielberg told Talking Movies on BBC Radio 4 that he wanted his version to “get it right” in terms of diversity, inclusion and representation.

“First thing I said was every single Shark, boy and girl, needs to come from the Latinx communities. And without fail,” he said. “We just wanted for this movie to get it right.”

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