Rita Moreno, what spirit, what soul!
Hers is a a long and successful career in a Hollywood system that did not want her to be herself nor allow her to celebrate her Puerto Rican heritage.
The new documentary “Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided to Go For It” which came out this week is an uplifting look at the EGOT [EGOT is a way to define those entertainers who have won all four of the most honorific awards in entertainment, the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony -ed] winner’s career, one that defied the odds while revealing the personal struggles.
At this latter stage of her life Moreno continues to work in the film profession. Her recollections of her struggles with society, producers, and lovers are frank (Rita Moreno has nothing to hide). She regales the cameras with stories that are funny, sad, and inspiring, each one covering a body of work that spans six decades and contains over a hundred fifty performances in films, television and stage.
Moreno is one of the few studio system actors still working. It was a hard road for her as she recalls on-screen how she was mostly cast as an Asian, or dark-skinned islander that would require her natural skin to be covered in darker makeup. White-dominated Hollywood was hard.
These types of roles never made her happy but she was working and it allowed Moreno to find a way to get her voice heard. Eventually, it happened as “West Side Story” exploded across Hollywood. Moreno was talked about everywhere and her performance would earn the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
With her career in flux after her time with Brando [see below for further detail], Moreno found even greater fame on television with the groundbreaking PBS series “The Electric Company.” Her opening yell of “Hey you guys!” became a part of seventies pop culture and endeared the actress to children everywhere.
Moreno’s first Emmy win came for her appearance on “The Muppet Show” and she earned an award for her work on an episode of “The Rockford Files.”
After her Grammy win for an “Electric Company” album Rita Moreno became a member of a very exclusive club, the EGOTs.
HAVE YOU READ Eric Althoff’s interview with director Mariem Pérez Riera?
During this time, the actress won a Tony Award for her work on stage in the play “The Ritz.” She would also play the character again for the film version, which earned her a Golden Globe nod.
It was not always sunny for the actress, however, as we learn of the suicidal moments Moreno went through due to her personal struggles and because of an unhealthy seven-year relationship with the aforementioned Marlon Brando, an episode that haunts her to this day.
It is Moreno’s honesty and willingness to share (sometimes matter-of-factly, though we know it runs deeper) that becomes one of the spokes in this wheel of interest.
As she watches in disgust as the Brett Kavanaugh hearings are broadcast, Moreno cheers on his victims who courageously came forward to testify. It is in this moment where she reveals her own sexual abuse. The scene becomes even more powerful as her focus goes to this memory, clearly still affected.
It is touching to watch a woman, so full of life, still haunted by her past, be it child sexual abuse, mentally abusive relationships, the Hollywood system, or the constant uphill battle with achieving a sense of self worth.
But director Mariem Pérez Riera does not shy away from her subject speaking her truth but smartly shows the triumph in Moreno’s life. She is more than a survivor. The actress kicked down the doors and refused to be destroyed by those who would try to pigeonhole her career.
Riera weaves in and out of Moreno’s past and present, beginning with her on the set of her Netflix show and as she recounts the story of her life, the filmmaker goes back to the period being discussed.
Add to her EGOT wins the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the 2019 Peabody Award and there is no denying the impact that Rita Moreno has had on her culture and her profession.
Mariem Pérez Riera’s film is a love letter to this phenomenal performer who radiates joy.
Rita Moreno’s life was tough, but she has become the woman she always strove to be. And now the world sees her exactly the way she likely wanted.
“Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided to Go For It” is a cultural examination of Hollywood both past and present and a tribute to a woman who overcame adversity and persevered to exist, entering the myth.
Anthony Francis is contributor to Screen Comment (@anthonyScreenC1) (see a complete list of articles by him)