The riveting doc about the actress who dealt with fame, racism, and sexism, and survived it all.
Rita Moreno, the iconic star of “The King & I,” “West Side Story,” and “Singing in the Rain,” has been given her own documentary titled: “Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It.” Executive produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Norman Lear and directed by Mariem Perez Riera, the movie tells her life as it was. Her work as an actress on screen and on Broadway, the racial and sexual prejudice aimed against her, and her passion as a woman’s rights activist.
Rita had a wonderful childhood in Puerto Rico, where she had a passion performing in front of her friends and family. Then she and her mother relocate to New York, where times were difficult (Great Depression wise), but as she aged, she continued to have her talents reach new heights.
In her early days when she was dressing up for the auditions, she was described as “a Spanish Elizabeth Taylor,” and she was her only role model by the way. Speaking of “Spanish,” at MGM where she worked, she wasn’t treated well because of her race. Her roles were racial, sexist, and stupid illiterates, which she was fine with at first, but then, she realized she wasn’t treated like her true self. She would have turned down those particular roles, but given the time and circumstances, they were the only jobs given to her, and she needed a job to survive.
Because of her beauty, she was often treated like a sex object on and off camera. For one thing, Harry Cohn, the former head of Columbia Pictures, harassed her at a party. Another thing is when she was supposed to portray a dead girl in the water, and there were jellyfish stinging her, the director Robert D. Webb told her to “shut up and be sexy.” And worst of all, her former agent raped her in her own apartment, and she still worked with him.
There’s also her romance with Marlon Brando-the Marlon Brando. She was so in love with him that she wanted to marry him. However problems emerge from that relationship. She was pregnant with his child, until he arranged for her abortion. And she wanted to off herself, but survived the attempt and went into therapy.
But the man whom she really loved and married was her manager Lenny Gordon. This time, she was able to have daughter with him, and they lived happily ever after until his death in 2010.
And then there comes a point in a woman’s life, when she realizes she’s not a piece of meat that a man can barbecue and marinate with whatever sauce he likes (this is something I’d like to say to a male chauvinist pig for the record). She is a strong woman of race, and she becomes involved with movements and political issues.
The other interviewees include Miranda, Lear, Hector Elizondo, Eva Longoria, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, and Gloria Estefan, and they all explain to audiences their perspectives with working with her or being inspired by her or the difficulties she faced as Latina in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
It’s crucial for us to get the famous “America” number in “West Side Story,” which she won the Oscar for. And besides the movies and Broadway shows, we also get aspects of her work on the hit children’s show “The Electric Company,” and her guest appearance on “The Muppet Show,” which she won her first Emmy for.
“Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” is riveting and exceptional in the ways it presents Rita Moreno’s life in some of the most beautiful and emotional lights. Some of the trouble in her past is presented in a come and go way, but this movie wants to focus more on how she learns to overcome things and to speak like a woman. Because she is a woman-one who suffered through the racism and sexism, and made herself a better person.
The movie and show clips, as always, are able to remind fans of her entertainment values. The other interviewees love her work, as does most of her fans. And her words wake us up, and make us see her for who she is. This doc has it all.
In Select Theaters This Friday