Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It"
Release Date: June 18, 2021
Running Time: 89 minutes
Rita Moreno knows how to keep her word. “I made a very deep promise to myself that if I was going to do this documentary, I was going to be as truthful as I possibly could,” the iconic EGOT winner said during the introduction to the Cine Las Americas International Film Festival online screening of its opening night film, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It. The Puerto Rico-born multihyphenate never once appears to hold back during this celebratory documentary by the obviously appreciative director Mariem Pérez Riera. Moreno castigates the systemic racist practices by old Hollywood that forced her early in her career to play Latino stereotypes or portray other women of color. She dismisses her role of the young concubine Tuptim in the classic musical The King and I for being a snooze. She questions why she had a hard time finding work after becoming the first Hispanic woman to win an Oscar, for 1961’s otherwise career-redefining West Side Story. Turning to her personal life, Moreno unflinchingly discusses her rape by a man in her inner circle; shares intimate details about her lengthy love affair with a steadfastly noncommittal Marlon Brando; and reveals that her marriage to her late husband Leonard Gordon was less than perfect. “Did having to struggle so much take something out of me? Not me. Not I,” Moreno declares. And director Mariem Pérez Riera balances the bad with the good by paying tribute to a long and varied career that not only defied the odds but remains as strong and as vibrant today thanks to her recent sitcom role in Norman Lear’s One Day at a Time reboot and her upcoming appearance in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake (“You wanna talk about full circle. It is crazy. It is cuckoo!” Moreno says of her return to the musical that made her a household name.) And, of course, Riera revels in Moreno being one of the only 16 performers to win the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards, an achievement that Moreno has come to appreciate more today than when she became just the third EGOT winner in 1975. More important, Riera rightly applauds Moreno as an undeniable inspiration to other Hispanic and Latino artists and performers who have over the decades fought to make a name for themselves in show business. Says Lin-Manuel Miranda, one of the documentary’s executive producer: “For 3 or 4 generations, if we thought there was no place for us in this world of the arts that we wanted to get into, we could look up and see Rita waving that flag from the moon, and say, ‘OK, well she can do it. How close can I get?’” Being a role model for Moreno, though, was not enough. Her experiences of feeling marginalized in Hollywood led to her political awakening, and she continues to lend her support to many worthy causes today. Her reaction to a campaign to stop the gender-based “pink tax” is priceless. (Given her history of political activism, Moreno can and should be forgiven for defending Miranda after accusations of colorism were made against In the Heights, comments she wisely walked back.) Throughout the documentary, Riera captures the Moreno we know and love. Crackling with unbridled energy, and bursting with a lust for life, the vivacious an unrestrained Moreno never fails to present herself as an 89-years-young survivor of a cruel industry that initially dismissed, misused, or exploited her talent and proud heritage. As Norman Lear wisely concludes, Moreno “is an original, and she can’t help being that every minute of her life. So one gets lost in her personality and feels better for being with her.” An original who made the right decision to go for it.
Aired: June 24, 2021.