Sundance 2021: Rita Moreno

A still from Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It by Mariem Pérez Riera, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute . Photo: West Side Story, copyright 1961 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All rights reserved. Courtesy of MGM Media Licensing.

Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It is an eye-opening documentary exploring the life of EGOT winner Rita Moreno.

Rita Moreno is among the select few to receive the EGOT.  She also is a recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and many more.  The list of honors goes on and on.  But awards are not all there is to her story.  She persevered in the industry at a time when things were not easy.  She accepted every role that came her way even if it was beneath her.  Moreno, during her early career, would take on roles of many ethnicities.  But at some point, one must say enough is enough to taking on roles depicting stereotypes.  Many years later, we are watching a film to celebrate the life and career of a legendary star of the screen.

Before Rita Moreno, there were not many Latinx stars of the screen in the traditional sense.  Aside from Rita Hayworth, there were few and far between.  After an appointment with Louis B. Mayer in New York, the rest is history.  The road certainly wasn’t an easy one.  There were also some incidents along the way on the negative side.  These include incidents with Harry Cohn, her agent, and Marlon Brando.  Moreno became pregnant with Brando’s and ended up getting a botched abortion.  A suicide attempt would follow thereafter.

The Oscar win for West Side Story did not change anything with her career.  One thing that we learn during the film is that the original lyrics to “America” is racist.  But anyway, stereotypical roles would continue to follow.  This is truly a shame and just proves to show the racism in the industry.  The film is about the lows in as much as it is about the highs.  We get to know the actress in ways that other documentaries would take a different route.

Rita, in her personal life, married cardiologist Leonard Gordon.  Their marriage may have lasted until his passing in 2010 but there came a point in which she wanted to end their marriage.  And yet, they still stayed together.  But you still can’t help but have tears when Rita discusses his passing at the hospital.  During the post-screening Q&A, Moreno says that she would not talk about Leonard without his permission if he were still alive.

There are many colleagues and actors who appear in the film to talk about what she means to them.  Whether it was working with them or simply the path she paved in the industry for Latin actors.  They each have their own anecdotes to share or something they admire about her.  And again, many would not have a career today without the path she brought forward.

There’s some rawness in the film, too.  Filmmaker Mariem Pérez Riera captures the actress on camera without makeup.  It’s unexpected but it makes you wonder why not wearing makeup is not normalized in society.  While it is a bold choice to do so, it is a choice that I personally celebrate.  This also speaks to the cis-sexist standards in our society.

Portions of the film are shot at the same time as the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing.  I know that fall 2018 brings bad memories.  What this means is that there is no shortage of conversation about sexual violence.

Rita Moreno is a legend in her own right and this film celebrates her legacy in a special way.

DIRECTOR:  Mariem Pérez Riera
FEATURING:  George Chakiris, Héctor Elizondo, Gloria Estefan, Tom Fontana, Morgan Freeman, Mitzi Gaynor, Whoopi Goldberg, Norman Lear, Eva Longoria, Justina Machado, Terrence McNally, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Rita Moreno, Karen Olivo

Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It holds its world premiere during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary Competition.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.