In one word, Rita Moreno is a powerhouse. The 87-year-old singer, dancer, and actress has been stunning audiences for over 70 years. And she’s about to become the subject of a new documentary film on PBS’ American Masters series -- produced by none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda. Rita Moreno: The Girl Who Decided to Go for It will be released in 2020. There’s not a lot of information on it yet, as the documentary is still in production. However, PBS did release a little teaser, saying that the film “will demonstrate Moreno’s talent and resilience as she broke barriers and paved the way for new generations of artists by refusing to be pigeonholed and fighting for Latinx representation in a variety of genres”. In preparation for what’s sure to be a fascinating documentary, let’s get to know this performer who proves she deserves all this recognition -- and more!
Moreno is best known for her role as Anita in the 1961 film West Side Story, a role that earned her the title of the first Hispanic woman to ever win an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress). In fact, she is one of the few people to have won an EGOT -- an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, AND Tony. That’s not the only accolade she’s been decorated with -- she’s a recipient of the ‘Triple Crown of Acting,’ which means she has won individual competitive Academy, Emmy, and Tony awards for acting -- an honor that only 23 people have achieved. As if that’s not enough, she also holds a Presidential Medal of Freedom!
Let’s take a step back for a moment. Rita was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York City at the age of 5, where she began training with a Spanish dancer (who, fun fact, was related to film star and dancer, Rita Hayworth). Moreno began working as a voiceover actress when she was only 11, and landed her first Broadway role when she was 13 in a show called Skydrift.
She continued to act throughout the golden age of Hollywood, performing roles in films such as Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and The King and I (1956). Aside from her role in The King and I, where she played Tuptim, a Burmese woman who is one of the wives of the King of Siam, Moreno was unhappy with her work during this period, as she felt she was only being cast in stereotypical Hispanic roles. In fact, because she was so dissatisfied with the roles she was being offered, she didn’t sign on for a single movie for 7 years after she won the Oscar. In her words, “I showed them.”
Despite her Hollywood hiatus, she has continued to work, performing in films such as The Night of the Following Day (1968) with Marlon Brando, and a voice role in Rio 2 (2014). She’s also made guest appearances on shows such as The Love Boat, The Cosby Show, and The Muppet Show (which won her a Primetime Emmy Award). She also returned to the Broadway stage and earned a Tony Award for her performance in the 1975 production of The Ritz.
Modern audiences will recognize her from the Netflix sitcom, One Day at a Time. The show ran from 2017 to March 2019. However, after a fan outcry, the series was revived by Pop TV, which made it the first show to be canceled by Netflix and brought back by a cable network. And that’s not all -- Moreno will also star in and executive produce for the Steven Spielberg remake of West Side Story, headed to theaters in 2020.
As you can see, there’s going to be a lot of ground to cover in just one documentary! Honestly, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a longer and more broad career. According to PBS, through the series, Lin-Manuel Miranda aims to not only celebrate Moreno’s accomplishments, but “explore the lesser-known struggles Moreno faced on her path to stardom.” So that’s the scoop on an upcoming PBS documentary to keep on your radar -- we can’t wait to learn more about Rita Moreno, a true American inspiration and treasure!