About the Film
Winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, this classic musical is set among the tenements of New York City. Star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) are caught in the midst of a turf war between rival street gangs in a 1960s take on Romeo and Juliet. The film features original choreography by Jerome Robbins, and was filmed on-location in Manhattan, on 8th and 10th streets.
The Film In Context
Puerto Rican Migration to New York during the 50s
West Side Story is an award-winning Broadway musical loosely based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Set in 1950s New York, the musical was adapted for the big screen in 1961. Instead of two rival families pitted against each other as in Shakespeare’s play, the musical features two rival street gangs—the Jets, made up of second and third generation Americans, and the Sharks, made up of newly arrived Puerto Rican immigrants. West Side Story presented a turning point in American musicals by moving away from traditionally light themes and focusing on the social issues of the day including immigration and assimilation, racism, interracial relationships, and street gangs and turf wars.
- Between 1952 and 1953, 58,000 Puerto Rican migrants settled in New York City, marking the third wave of migration from the island to the U.S.
- In 1953, Puerto Rican migration reached its peak when 75,000 people left the island for the U.S.
- Discrimination against Puerto Ricans was rampant in the United States and in New York. Restaurants posted signs that read “No dogs or Puerto Ricans allowed”.
- With the increasing number of Puerto Ricans moving to New York, it did not take long for Puerto Rican “Barrios” or neighborhoods to be established in the South Bronx, Spanish Harlem, and the Lower East Side.
- As a response to the difficulties faced by Puerto Ricans trying to establish new lives in New York, a movement to embrace and preserve the culture in the face of discrimination began to grow within the community. Founded by writer Jesús Colón, the movement involved poets, writers, musicians and artists who were Puerto Rican or of Puerto Rican descent and living in or near New York City. Today the Nuyorican Movement is alive and strong.
- In 1980, Puerto Rican poets Miguel Algarín, Miguel Piñero and Pedro Pietri established the “Nuyorican Poets Café” on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, today considered a New York landmark.