Rita Moreno is 85, and she is still keeping momentum on her accomplishments. As a featured star on the Netflix reboot of the sitcom “One Day at a Time,” Moreno is not slowing down anytime soon.
As one of just a dozen “EGOTs” — an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award-winning performer, Moreno’s career is extraordinary for several more reasons. As the first Hispanic actress to win an Academy award, Moreno overcame many barriers as a woman of color to reach her full potential.
When she first arrived in Hollywood, she admitted to NPR that she became the “house ethnic,” either playing a “gypsy girl,” “Polynesian girl,” or “Egyptian girl.” After being cast in all these roles, she developed an accent, which she now dubs the “universal ethnic accent.” She also ran into a lot of racial bias growing up in New York City, where people spewed out derogatory nicknames.
Still, she proved others wrong when she starred in classic films, like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The King and I.”
In “West Side Story,” Moreno divulged an anecdote from the film in a podcast with journalist Maria Hinojosa. Caucasian actors Natalie Wood and George Chakiris had to wear “literal brown face” as Puerto Rican characters in New York. Moreno, too, had to darken her skin.
Moreno lists it as an example of the perpetuation of unfair racial stereotypes in Hollywood: Like Americans, Puerto Ricans are a tapestry of many different colors from Taino Indian and black to French and Spanish.
Still, Moreno portrayed Anita as a Latina with grit, character, and strength, eventually winning an Oscar for her unforgettable performance in “West Side Story.” She became an icon in the Hispanic community.
Moreno carved out a career in television by guest-starring on shows like “The Rockford Files” and “The Electric Company.” She acknowledges that diversity in television is better than film and Latinos still are hardly offered any roles that are worthy of award nominations. Still, she expressed optimism about the future of Hollywood, telling Variety, that the “best is yet to come.”
Moreno’s groundbreaking foray into Hollywood opened doors for future Latina entertainers, like Jennifer Lopez and Gina Rodriguez.
Ultimately, Moreno’s story shows the difficulties in promoting racial diversity in Hollywood. But the rise of many other Hispanic entertainers in Hollywood like Eva Longoria, Penelope Cruz, and Salma Hayek are a testament to how promoting diversity in Hollywood might not be the easiest feat, but can be attained.
What do you think of Rita Moreno’s influence in Hollywood? How can Hollywood better address problems in diversity? Tweet @issabasco.