When Bernardo and his sister Maria keep bickering with each other in Spanish and English in the new West Side Story, Anita- and the audience- insist that they speak in English. But Steven Spielberg’s movie doesn’t push for the same. Spielberg’s remake of the classical musical about whites and Puerto Ricans falling in love and fighting for territory has quite a lot of Spanish dialogue.
Interestingly, those lines have not been translated into English subtitles. When Maria decided to end her argument by claiming “!Y Tu no eres mi jefe”, non-Spanish speakers would have to make sense out of that through the context, and the way Rachel Zegler delivers the sentence.
West Side Story Sees A Marked Shift From Subtitles
Steven Spielberg said that the choice for no subtitles in West Side Story was absolutely intentional. The mere use of subtitles, he believes, would have been disrespectful to Spanish speakers for it would have implied that they weren’t the target audience. But to make it comparatively easy for those who don’t speak a word in Spanish, the lines have been dispersed loosely and designed to be understood emotionally for non-speakers. Now if that leads to the audience missing out on a few jokes, it is a comparatively small price to pay.
West Side Story can easily be considered to be one of those examples of filmmakers trying to speak directly to the people the stories are based on. In Encanto, Disney’s animated musical, the songs unfold in Spanish without any translation. Reservation Dogs, the FX series, also brings in Native American slang and cultural references without any explanation.
While traditionalists may have a grind against this subtle shift in how Hollywood makes movies, it can’t be denied that entertainment definitely doesn’t need to come by in English to have a broader appeal. West Side Story, just a decade ago, would have been a miss as the lack of translations would have alienated the public. But with superhit shows like Squid Games, Lupin, and Parasite, things seem to be changing.