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Today’s Prayer Focus

West Side Story

also known as “Amor Sin Barreras,” “Amor, Sublime Amor,” “Batı Yakasının Hikayesi,” “Câu Chuyện Phía Tây,” “Historia del lado oeste,” See more »
MPA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPA) for some strong violence, strong language, thematic content, suggestive material and brief smoking.

Reviewed by: Alexander Malsan

Moral Rating: Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Adults Young-Adults
Genre: Musical Crime Drama Romance Adaptation
Length: 2 hr. 36 min.
Year of Release: 2021
USA Release: December 10, 2021 (wide release—2,820 theaters)
DVD: March 15, 2022
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Relevant Issues
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Rival, violent criminal street gangs in 1950s New York

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Gang initiations

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What is true love and how do you know when you have found it?

Teen Qs™—Christian Answers for teenagers
Teens! Have questions? Find answers in our popular TeenQs section. Get answers to your questions about life, dating and much more.

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RACISM—What are the consequences of racial prejudice and false beliefs about the origin of different ethnicities? Answer

ORIGIN OF ETHNIC PEOPLE GROUPS—How could all ethnicities come from Noah, his three sons and their wives? Answer

Racism, Ethnicity Issues and Christianity
Get biblical answers to racial hot-topics. Where did various ethnicities come from? How did varying skin color come about? Why is it so important to have a biblical foundation for such issues?
Copyright, 20th Century Studios, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Studios, a division of The Walt Disney Company
Featuring Ansel ElgortTony
Rachel ZeglerMaría
Ariana DeBoseAnita
David AlvarezBernardo
Rita MorenoValentina
Brian d'Arcy JamesOfficer Krupke
Corey StollLieutenant Schrank
Mike FaistRiff
Josh Andrés Rivera … Chino
Iris Menas … Anybodys
Sebastian Serra … Braulio
Ricardo Zayas (Ricardo A. Zayas) … Chago
Jacob Guzman … Junior
See all »
Director Steven Spielberg
Producer Amblin Entertainment
Amblin Partners
See all »
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Trademark logo.
20th Century Studios
, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Studios, a division of The Walt Disney Company

New York City, 1950s. The streets are alive, but broken. While New York City has become a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities living together, this has not necessarily led to a peaceful coexistence. It also doesn’t help that different homes, apartments and condos are being torn down to make way for luxurious hotels, convention centers and plazas while racial tensions are occurring among the different communities.

Take, for example, the Jets (led by their leader “Riff”) and the Sharks (led by their leader “Bernardo”). The Jets, an Irish-American group of street—gangsters from downtown Manhattan, have had control of a large portion of their territory for quite some time. They see themselves as superior to all the other street gangs, especially to newcomers like the Sharks. The Sharks, however, are a Puerto-Rican group of street-gangsters that have claimed turf in Manhattan. Please, people, can’t we all just get along?

Apparently not. In fact, the Jets and Sharks are seen fighting each other quite often. One Jet that isn’t quite onboard with the street life anymore is a recently released and former criminal (turned nice guy), Anton (aka “Tony”) (Ansel Elgort).

On parole, Tony is trying to rebuild his life with honest work and by keeping his head low, until he meets the beautiful Maria (Rachel Zegler) while at a local school dance that the Jets and Sharks attend. It’s love at first sight for the two of them. Neither really cares that one’s a Shark and one’s a Jet. But the gangs themselves? Well, that’s a WHOLE ‘nother story.

The 1961 iconic film-musical, “West Side Story,” is a gem. There are some that would never have believed it was conceivable to reboot a story like “West Side Story.” If anyone was going to take on the challenge though, it was Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg as you are aware already has a plethora of Academy Award-winning films ranging from sci-fi to drama to historic and even biographical. So why was he so interested in dipping his hands into the film musical genre? Was it just to add another genre to his long list of successes, or was there something more?

In an interview with The Guardian, Spielberg mentioned that he grew up listening to and enamored with “West Side Story” and the soundtrack…

“It has never left my life,” he says. “I’ve played the cast album to my kids. They memorized the songs growing up. I’ve got videos where I’m running around the place playing Officer Krupke and all the Jets. Those videos prove how ‘West Side Story’ has permeated my entire life and the lives of my kids and grandkids. It’s crazy!”

Did it need to be remade? No, not really. As I said, the 1961 version is a prize. However, what Mr. Spielberg has done with this version of is extraordinary. From the iconic whistle heard at the beginning while staring at a blank screen to the very final blow at the conclusion of the film, every detail is carefully considered. However, Spielberg wasn’t trying to copy the 1961 version scene-for-scene. There is some originality to be found in some additional scenes that were NOT in the original 1961 film and backstories for primary and secondary characters that provide more depth and, perhaps, a new perspective.

One also cannot forget the breathtaking camerawork on display. From the first overhead view of the city, to the intimate closeups, every moment felt like I was transported to 1950s New York City. As one person mentioned in another review, I appreciated that the movie was filmed in a tinted-like fashion to make it seem like it was a film from the 1950s/60s.

The music cannot and should not be understated. From what information I could gather, there were many brilliant musicians who were brought into the fold for this project, including, composer David Newman who arranged and adapted Bernstein’s original score for the film. Gustavo Dudamel conducted the New York Philharmonic during the film’s recording sessions in 2019 (and some additional music was performed by the London Philharmonic). Jeanine Tesori served as vocal coach, while frequent Spielberg collaborator John Williams served as music consultant.

Additionally, all of the songs were pre-recorded and used as playback on set, with the exceptions of “One Hand, One Heart” “Somewhere” and “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” which did not use the playback and were instead sung live on set. Portions of “Maria” were also sung live on set without the playback, as per Ansel Elgort’s request (he plays Tony). This attention to detail allowed for an impressive experience. Everyone’s voices were simply breathtaking, including newcomer Rachel Zegler (who plays Maria). But the person who really steals the show is Rita Moreno, who you may remember as Anita in the 1961 film. Not only does she play a completely different role in this adaptation (which I won’t spoil), but in the one solo she DOES have, she brought me to tears.

Objectionable Material

I do have one major issue with this adaptation of the film: the role of Anybodys. In the stage show and 1961 film, Anybodys is portrayed as a tomboy desperate to become a Jet, but in this 2021 version he/she is portrayed as a transgender character played by the “non-binary” actor Iris Menas. In fact, before the most comedic moments of the film, a scene in the 2021 film is added that is devoted JUST to point out that Anybodys is transexual (one of the Jets argues that he swears he checked and saw “something” underneath Anybodys skirt, if you catch my drift). There was absolutely no need to change Anybodys for the 2021 adaptation, but the filmmakers did so to conform to and find acceptance from the LGBTQA+ community.

VIOLENCE: Heavy. A character is shot twice and killed. A character is punched in the face repeatedly while refusing to fight, but eventually defends himself by almost beating another character to death. Two characters are stabbed to death. The Jets and Sharks beat each other up mercilessly before the police arrive. A character points a gun against a Jet’s forehead (the Jet dares him to shoot). A Jet pretends to shoot a real gun at the other Jets. Two characters discuss what weapons they will bring to a brawl (knives, bricks, chains, etc.) and later we see that the Jets and Sharks bring these items to the brawl. A kid has a nail in his ear after an incident. We see the Jets vandalize a painting of a Puerto Rican flag. We see a Jet rip a sign off a store. A character pushes another character. We see some characters boxing each other. A girl is slapped in the face by another girl.

VULGARITY: Heavy. “You shriveled d*ckhead dago pansy,” “Go s*ck on your sister’s t*tty.” “Go s*ck a pickle” (1), “Got a rocket, in your pocket,” fathers “knocking up some local pieces” (1), “Sh*t” (2), “Bullsh*t,” “Krupt You” (Takes the place of the F-bomb in a song), spic(s) (5), gr*ngo(s) (6), “big dumb pollack” (1), “d*ck” (1), “d*ckless wonder” (1), “P*shes tea” (drug reference) (1), “Mother has a mustache, father wears a dress” (1), “Cr*p,” “Who gives a fart?” (1), “A**” (2), “As long as he’s hot”

PROFANITY: Moderately Heavy. “J*sus Chr*st” (2), “J*sus” (2), “Jee,” “Chr*st Alm*ghty” (2), “G*d-d*mn” (4),“H*llmouth” (1), “H*ll” (1)

SEX: Two characters share passionate kisses in a few scenes. Two other characters share a couple kisses. As mentioned, Anybodys in this adaptation is played by an actor/actress who considers themselves non-binary and the character is transgender. Two characters are seen in bed together. Song lyrics include “A boy like that wants one thing only, and when he’s done, he’ll leave you lonely.”

NUDITY: Two characters are seen in bed together (we see their bare shoulders). Some female characters wear short shorts and one wears a revealing t-shirt. Upper male nudity. In some dance numbers, when the dresses move undergarments can be seen underneath. Cleavage.

DRUGS: Someone is shown smoking a cigarette. Cigarettes are mentioned in a song. Marijuana is referenced twice (once in a scene and once in a song).

ALCOHOL: Characters on a rooftop are seen drinking before a brawl.

OTHER: There are some themes involving racism and immigration layered throughout the film (they are much more present in this adaptation than in the original version [e.g., Puerto Ricans are reminded to speak English]). There is a scene at a morgue with two dead corpses.


There are many themes to draw from in a musical like “West Side Story.” One that really drew my attention was the theme of “hate.” It is apparent from the very first scene that the Jets and the Sharks, for no good reason, truly hate each other.

As Christians, we can hate evil. We can hate wickedness. However, we cannot hate each other. That is when hatred becomes sin.

“If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” —1 John 1:6

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” —Ephesians 4:31

When you feel angry toward someone, turn it into prayer before it turns into hatred. Stop it in its tracks. Pray for those who wrong you or hurt you and ask God to forgive them and give you peace.

Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” —Proverbs 10:12

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” —Luke 6:27-28

Final Thoughts

“West Side Story,” in 1961, set out to reinvent the timeless tale of Romeo and Juliet and introduce it to a new generation, just as the musical “Godspell” was used to help the youth understand the story of the Gospel better (in a more contemporary, yet respectful, manner).

As many other reviewers have pointed out, “West Side Story” (2021) is sure to inspire a brand new generation of audiences, just like the 1961 version did. This is certainly one of Spielberg’s finest works, and I’m sure no doubt this film will be a contender for many Oscars come February.

There are some issues of concern at play here, however, that will deter some from attending. The fact that Anybodys is transgender in this film is a red flag and entirely unnecessary. There is also some unnecessary sexual content and foul language that wasn’t present in the 1961 version. I definitely don’t think young kids should see this film.

  • Violence: Heavy
  • Vulgar/Crude language: Heavy
  • Profane language: Moderately Heavy
  • Sex: Moderate
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Moderate
  • Nudity: Mild
  • Occult: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—Let me say I love the original West Side Story. I initially cringed when I heard about the remake (begrudgingly expecting J Lo to be involved), but I knew a remake “had” to happen. The original had white actors in brown face portraying Puerto Ricans. BIG no. And there are now plenty of Latino/a actors that can step into these roles.

I will say this pleasantly surprised me as a version that can stand on its own. It has beautiful cinematography, excellent choreography, a well-talented cast, and a fan-favorite cameo by Rita Moreno. I actually appreciated Spielberg not having English subtitles during the Spanish dialogue, too. I am not bilingual, but I feel it added an element of authenticity to it… as if it really immersed you in the Puerto Rican culture.

Will I watch this one over the original? Probably not. But I appreciate what this remake brought to the table and would rewatch it on its own merits.

And to the reviewer: the Jets and Sharks hated each other because of race (white vs. Puerto Rican). You can catch the microaggressions in the spoken dialogue and song lyrics. I agree race is no real reason to hate anyone, but unfortunately, this “reason” has existed since Biblical times (Samaritans vs. Jews).
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
Christina, age 45 (USA)
Positive— I recently saw this movie with a friend of mine.

We both agreed that while this film was not as good as the 1961 film, overall the 2021 remake was surprisingly good and enjoyable. Showing the evils of racism and violence. Superb acting and chemistry between the cast members. All in all, a pretty decent film.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Jeff Andrew Winters, age 42 (USA)
Neutral—First—my neutral review is only because I have to balance my love for the story and moviemaking quality against the offensive language and the violence. Otherwise, this would be a very positive review!

I went into this movie with very high expectations, because I love Romeo and Juliet, I love the older version of West Side Story, and I know the long history of quality that has come from Steven Spielberg. This movie did NOT disappoint! It was wonderful! The story is the same, but the timeline is slightly different, there are new songs and dialogue added, and the actors chosen bring a fresh new look into the characters I’ve loved for so long.

My only negative ding I have against this movie is that it follows in the footsteps of a lot of other Hollywood productions in the modern era—everything has to have foul language, crude comments, and so on. In the original movie, there was a female character who was a “tomboy,” but she was never seen as transgender. This movie doesn’t come out and say that she is, but it is implied in overly trashy ways in a couple of scenes, and is given a nod of approval toward the end. There is also one scene where the main characters are seen in bed with each other, presumably naked, but covered by a sheet as the implied sex scene ends.

I would give this movie a very strong PG-13 rating with it bordering on R, but in all other respects, I LOVED this movie and highly recommend it. (Do not bring young children, though.)
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
Chrystal, age 45 (USA)
Negative—The only reason this new version exists is to correct what many wrongly perceive to be a glaring fault in the iconic 1961 masterpiece. The original photo play is perfect in every way. Sadly, that is not the only modernization done here. A character who was originally depicted as a woman acting like one of the opposite gender (think Scout Finch in “To Kill A Mockingbird”) is now a social experiment gone horribly wrong in a misguided attempt to play God. Has no one learned the lesson from Frankenstein Or The Modern Prometheus (and the excellent adaptation Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein starring and directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh) or the folly of the R. M. S. Titanic?

Considering the photo play is set in 1957, that is a huge anachronism. The decision to not use subtitles for the non-English portions is another huge mistake. Like “Shogun” (1980), it takes people who are unfamiliar with Spanish out of the picture. The addition of profanity in English and some strong language in unsubtitled Spanish was another let-down. I personally have no issue with profanity as long as those words do not become the only dialogue in a picture (i.e., “Scarface” [1983]).

I admit, Miss Zegler is beautiful, and she does an admirable job as does her male co-star, the location change for one song works very well, and there are some great visuals throughout, including during the end credits. Stick with the 1961 film, see this version to compare, and then forget about “West Side Story” (2021).
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
D, age 36 (USA)
Negative—Having received a sweet invitation from my college senior to go see a modernized classic musical (she knows mama love her some *Classic* musicals and particularly a Shakespeare adaptation) I couldn’t refuse an opportunity to be with her even though I had plenty of questions about the movie choice—having never seen the original West Side Story.

After seeing the latest modern rendition I was very much appreciating my own mother’s decision for never introducing it to us for reasons unknown to me.

Concerns regarding offensive material are as follows: the language is BEYOND VULGAR in obscenities and expletives—all while singing. The degree of stabbing and violence certainly adds to the wonderment of how the movie didn’t get an R rating. Nudity and inappropriate relations (a post “bed” scene) are identical to the original 70’s Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet—albeit in Romeo and Juliet they had already been married). Maria’s apartment is her brother and his live-in girlfriend, so lots of steamy intros, although nothing more is seen, similar to the gang-attack on the girlfriend.

Concerns regarding social conditioning: The tomboy from the original movie has been typecast as a transgender role. Not sure it was necessary or would have been presumed if not for the current PC-Inclusivity entertainment gods. Another instance to be completely missed by non-Spanish speakers (I speak some, but Puertoricans speak crazy-fast Spanish, so who know what else was missed in the frequent Spanish dialog). The movie itself very much stoked the anti-white/American dogma even in its cinematography regardless if it was hypocritical. When the brothers girlfriend is being left out of “family” decisions (they are not married yet and it is clear she wants to be), in Spanish she asks “porque soy prieta” —”because I’m black.” Curious they didn’t have that exchange in English as minority vs. minority racism clearly doesn’t promote the modern narrative coming out of Hollywood propaganda.See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
TJ, age 50 (USA)
…creators appear to have allowed an agenda to take precedence over fundamental artistry. In other words, it looks as if the message derailed the medium.

In the Spielberg version of “West Side Story,” the underlying storyline, song lyric content, and personality traits of some of the characters were significantly changed. This appears to have been done in an effort to comply with an invisible mandate contained within the film’s agenda of preference.

To compound matters, certain scenes are much less accessible, particularly for viewers who are not bilingual in English and Spanish languages. Portions of the film are actually in Spanish language only; however, there are no subtitles included…

Spielberg…told IGN that the choice…was “out of respect for the inclusivity of our intentions to hire a totally Latinx cast to play the Sharks' boys and girls.” He also indicated that the decision was made to avoid an inequity that might be created if a language became over-empowered. “If I subtitled the Spanish I’d simply be doubling down on the English and giving English the power over the Spanish,” he said.

In Spielberg’s remake, a scene …has unfortunately been twisted into an anti-police presentation. …
James Hirsen, Newsmax
Comments from non-viewers
Negative—I was thinking of seeing the movie because I am a fan of the 1961 film and acted in a West Side Story production at school (I was one of the Jet girls). However, I looked up reviews just to see if it was worth streaming, only to be outraged. I loathed the fact that Steven Spielberg made Anybodys into a transgender! Why in the world did he do that? How dare he and the crew ruin the character of Anybodys! I can’t believe that he took one of the main characters who is the only Jet girl that had more character than the other Jet girls and wrecked her! Fools, don’t you know that tomboys love boys, too? Although Anybodys was not based on a pre-existing character from Romeo and Juliet, she was supposed to represent women who wanted to join all-men street gangs because they wanted to meet men. Showing off on how tough she is to the Jet boys, was Anybodys” way of flirting with them. The fact that they made her a transgender guy ruined the purpose of her character and promoted a lie that any girl who is a tomboy is really a homosexual. To Steven Spielberg: You have a responsibility, as a Jewish man, to represent God’s agenda; not the Devil’s program. So stop promoting Satan’s kingdom of darkness!
Zoey, age 32 (USA)

PLEASE share your observations and insights to be posted here.

Secular Movie Critics
…It’s a good film. Will families gather round whatever video streaming device extant to watch it 60 years from now, the way we have with the 1961 film? No. This “West Side” is good, not great…
Roger Moore, Movie Nation
…“West Side Story” is visually entrancing, emotional, and the choreography and staging magnetic even when certain aspects of the story don’t always work. …
Mae Abdulbaki, Screen Rant
…while the songs still soar… Spielberg’s musical remake is more indulgent than essential… Tony’s tough-guy past doesn’t convince, and he also fumbles a key emotional moment. …For all the finger-snapping, this West Side Story doesn’t quite click.
Matt Maytum, Total Film
…a whirring rush of euphoric energy… best when it zooms in and settles down into character study…
Dan Rubins, Slant Magazine [2½/4]
…Spielberg’s take on musical not as bad as you’d think…
Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post [3/4]
…A solidly entertaining remake peppered with a few transcendent moments, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story emphasises the musical’s most beloved elements without trying to radically reinterpret the source material. …unabashed melodrama full of soaring tunes…
Tim Grierson, Screen Daily
…This new take on the material is more sinewy and sensual. It balances the property’s inherent melodrama with added grit…
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair
…Not every tweak and shave works — there is a brief, unfortunate vacuum in the closing scene… Rachel Zegler, this year’s Maria, moves like a ballerina and sings with heavenly precision, but she is just a little too prim and polished… Ansel Elgort, as Tony, manages to adapt his modest singing and dancing abilities to the challenging material, but he can’t shake off the preppie aura that hangs about his uptown shoulders. …
Donald Clarke, The Irish Times [4/5]