Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It

A- show business documentary
Directed by Mariem Pérez Riera

Rita Moreno has been an exceptional performer since before I was born, and she’s still going at it. But I had to watch Mariem Pérez Riera’s outstanding documentary, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, to realize just how difficult it was in Hollywood for a talented and beautiful Latina.

How bad was it? Her agent raped her, and she kept him as her agent. She needed him more than he needed her.

That’s the most horrible story that Moreno tells us. In her own home, looking into the camera, she directly recounts her story. What she tells us is amazing – the good and the bad. No one tells their life story with perfect accuracy; people are weighed down by faulty memories and powerful egos. I suspect that most of this story is true, and either way, it’s fascinating.

At a young age, Moreno moved with her mother from Puerto Rico to New York City. By the age of 16, her beauty and dancing skills made her the family breadwinner. Connections got her to Metro Goldwyn Mayer – Hollywood’s biggest studio at the time. There was only one kind of part for a beauty with dark skin: an exotic girl who falls in love with a white man and then dies.

Her first “white” part was the movie star Zelda in Singin’ in the Rain. It’s a small part, but she wasn’t tragically exotic; she was funny. It didn’t last. She soon played a slave girl in The King and I.

If Moreno is remembered for anything, it was the part of the Puerto Rican firebrand Anita in the original film version of West Side Story. She was so surprised when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, she had almost nothing to say. She’s also playing a small part in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming remake.

But after she got the Oscar, Hollywood had no use for her. She worked occasionally in television, but it wasn’t until 1969 that she acted in a real film, The Night of the Following Day. She starred alongside her long-time but now former lover, Marlon Brando.

She eventually married a doctor with no connections to show business (she tells a very funny story about how they met). He eventually passed away.

Moreno has had an exceptional career, being one of 16 people who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (casually called an EGOT).

Many other stars talk glowingly on camera about Moreno in the film. These include Morgan Freeman, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Whoopi Goldberg (also an EGOT). Miranda and Norman Lear executive produced the documentary.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It will open at the Elmwood, the Rafael, and perhaps other Bay Area theaters this Friday.