When Rita Moreno went down in history in 1962 as the first Latin American to win an Oscar, she was so stunned that when she received the award she managed to utter only three short sentences: “I can’t believe it. Dear God! Now I have to leave you”. The famous Anita from “The Story from the West Side” was very resented at the time for being unprepared to stand on the reddest of all red carpets. But today, six decades later, she has a lot to reveal to us.
The new documentary “An Ordinary Girl Who Decided to Succeed” takes off layer by layer of her glamorous biography to show the price Moreno paid on her way to the stars. She found a common language with the director, Marie Perez Rier, four years ago, during the filming of the series “Day by Day” in Los Angeles. In addition to being both Puerto Ricans, Riera’s son played her grandson Moreno, or rather her character. When the producer mentioned that he would make a documentary about the life of the 89-year-old actress, the director presented her vision – to highlight the most dramatic moments of her life. The film, which came out on June 18, 2021, presents the life of a star behind the camera – how he plans a birthday party with his daughter in his home, drives to work in the early morning hours, prepares for the awards ceremony. By the way, the title of the film is borrowed from the slogan from the blouse that Rita Moreno took on the red carpet.
This is the life story of Rita Moreno!
Like a paper doll
With the help of animation, she is shown as a paper puppet that is easily manipulated to suit every role that was required of her – on the screen and off it. Born in Puerto Rico as Rosa Dolores Alverio Marcano, she traveled to New York with her mother in 1935. From there, from the age of eleven, the masters of show business slowly turned it into the first famous symbol of the American dream. At least that’s what it looked like to the audience. Colleagues and fans talk about her in the new film, among whom are Eva Longoria, Morgan Freeman, Gloria Estefan, Hector Elizondo, Whoopi Goldberg. It is recalled that Moreno is the first Latina to win all the other big awards in American show business: Amy, Grammy and Tony. But, in the interviews with the main character, we meet the pain, hidden behind the glittering facade. The abortion that nearly killed her, humiliating roles full of stereotypes about sex symbols and the Latino population, sexual abuse, suicide attempts, eight years of problematic relationships with Marlon Brando – are just some topics she sincerely delves into for the first time. She did it with the great encouragement of the director, who went through painful experiences herself.
“The last interview was difficult. She didn’t wear artificial eyelashes that day because she knew she was going to cry,” Riera revealed in an interview with Refinery29. The most difficult thing for the director was to ask questions about the actress’ marriage to cardiologist Leonard Gordon.
Why did she stay with him for 45 years even though she was unhappy?
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and the audience was left with a bitter taste in their mouths when Moreno described in detail how she was attacked by the manager when she was still a girl. That event left deep and lasting scars in her soul. At the end of “Stories from the West Side”, it is hinted that her character, Anita, will be raped by the whole gang. Moreno burst into tears because the scene evoked horrible memories. The crew had to stop filming and help her push the film to the end.
He also talks about the toxic relationship with Brand. About how the fight we see in 1968 in their joint film “The Night of the Next Day” was actually very real. Such moments are the best part of our film, because we see things in a different perspective. Now we know the background of what happened. For example, when she won an Oscar, she had tried to kill herself only a few months before.
Fighting for a better life
“When you know that, then you understand why she was not able to communicate with the audience at that time. Because she was still insecure about herself,” the director points out. The new documentary re-examines the idea of Hollywood to show a newcomer from a poor country as a symbol of the American dream. The authors have in mind the main question: what could Rita Moreno have achieved if she had not had all the above-mentioned traps along the way. “The American dream is not always happy, it’s a real fight. It was important to show it.”
Hector Elizondo says in our film: “For me, the American dream is just an opportunity. Everything else depends on the man himself. The American dream is not just winning awards and moving from a poor life to a star who lives in a beautiful house in Berkeley. There are many conflicts and fights “, concludes Maria Perez Riera, who, just like the actress’ mother, arrived from Puerto Rico to the USA with a small child in her arms.
Rita Moreno watched the film “An Ordinary Girl Who Decided to Succeed” and had only one comment: “Only now do I understand why they consider me a woman who opened the way for others”.
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