The controversy around the 1961 West Side Story remake



The remake of the 1961 West Side Story features more diversity and representation along with lively dance numbers.

Katy Clark, AVT Senior Staff Writer

On December 10th, a remake of the classic 1961 West Side Story hit theaters, exciting many people in the theater community.

Following the same plot as the original, the new West Side Story offers representation to the Latino community and the Non-Binary community, fixing the “mistakes” of the original film, which featured white actors dressed in brownface.

“Unfortunately, sometimes in theater, white people would act as a POC (person of color) character, which in my opinion is absolutely disgusting. In this new remake, however, this cast is largely made up of Latino actors, which it absolutely should be,” said president of the Drama Club Leila Brown.

Controversy around Ansel Elgort

Even with all the representation it brought to minority communities, the new film fell under a wave of controversy when Ansel Elgort, the actor who played Tony, was alleged to have engaged in sexual misconduct against a minor named Gabby in 2014.

“It is a new accusation. I think we sometimes rush to convict. I am not saying that he is not guilty, because he may very well be very guilty,” said Drama teacher Lynn Kirksey.

This allegation was brought forth in 2020, the same year that the movie was supposed to be released. However, like most Hollywood pieces that were supposed to be released during the pandemic, it got pushed back a year.

“I am sure that they are very upset about this and I am sure that they want to promote their movie and want people to go see the movie and so they are really in a hard spot,” said Kirksey.

During the gap year, the cast and crew of West Side Story promoted their movie through Instagram, while quite noticeably not addressing the allegations of the main actor. On January 26th, Rita Moreno, Rachel Zegler, and Ariana Debose broke the silence and shared their opinion on the matter.

“We made a movie two and a half years ago, and a lot has gone on in the world since then. A lot has changed very publicly, and privately as well. There’s been a lot of awakening,” said Rachel Zegler in an interview for the Hollywood Reporter.

Some people have boycotted the movie based on Ansel Elgort’s actions, even people who have been fans of the original work. They do not want to give a fanbase to Ansel Elgort and celebrate his musical talents when he has allegedly engaged in harmful behavior against women. For some, separating the character from the actor is impossible.

“I personally believe that a boycott would not be necessary, considering the representation and the dedication and details, but I believe that Ansel should absolutely not receive any support,” said Brown.

Cinematography and representation

In spite of the massive controversy, fans who did go see the movie experienced a film with masterful choreography, bright costumes, and meaningful character development. These elements set up an impactful ending that had new viewers come out of the theater shocked and emotional.

“I did not expect the ending. I have never seen West Side Story before [now]. I can’t say I cried but it really got me caring about the characters and just how it twists and turns all around,” said Drama Club secretary and treasurer Sebastian Civetta (‘23).

In addition, iris menas, a transgender non binary actor, took on the role of Anybodys, a small but lovable character who hangs around the Jets. In support of the LGBTQIA community, Steven Spielberg made this character non-binary, a progressive step for the theater community.

“Just as we need more Latino representation in the film industry, we also need more non-binary representation. And West Side Story does just that. It is so refreshing to see directors look past gender and to just consider the person themself and if they truly fit the character,” said Brown.


The remake of the 1961 film had its controversies, but it also placed marginalized communities into the spotlight. Hollywood has notoriously featured controversial actors and actresses and elevated them on a platform. The question of whether or not to boycott a movie based on the actions of one actor, even if the movie is full of influential themes and diverse actors, still has no clear answer.