CUNY’s influence is present in this year’s Oscars

Jahlil Rush, Production Assistant

Oscar nominations for the 2022 season are here, and the selection is extensive. Although diversity is underrepresented, one film that shines is Steven Spielberg’s 2021 remake of the pop culture classic, “West Side Story.”

The recent remake of the 1961 film is one of the leading contenders with seven nominations, including for best picture and best director. However, Jane Campion’s western, “The Power of the Dog,” surpasses West Side Story, with the accumulation of twelve nominations.

The process of remaking this Oscar nominated West Side Story contributes to the weight of this huge honor, and CUNY had a big influence in that.

Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner teamed up with the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, also known as Centro, at Hunter College and Brooklyn College. Professor Emerita and historian Virginia Sánchez Korrol, were historical consultants for the film.

Centro’s limitless collection of historical images and documents focused on Puerto Rican history and communities aided the filmmakers in painting a more authentic and accurate picture of New York City in the 1950s.

A community advisory board was formed with Rosa Cruz Cordero, Centro’s manager of outreach and partnership, leading the board.

CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, along with Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab and Centro Interim Director Yarimar Bonilla, welcomed Kushner and the original actress that played Maria in West Side Story,Rita Moreno, with a tour of the center in December 2021.

Moreno and Kushner saw a selection of Centro’s documents, which also highlights the actress’ past work in in movie, television and theater.

Centro’s many documents include over 300 collections of personal papers and organizational records, including approximately 100,000 photographs, 4,000 audio and video recordings, and 2,000 art posters.

Korrol also participated in a lecture series created by Brooklyn College that studied the cultural impact of the 1961 version of “West Side Story.” Maria Perez y Gonzalez, deputy chair of the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies department, led the series called “West Side Story: The Brooklyn Connection,” and guest appearances were made by Spielberg and Kushner.

For Korrol, the use of the Spanish language in the film is one of the many details that captivated her.

“I love that they use the Spanish without the subtitles. I love hearing the Spanish spoken in the
house the way it’s supposed to be. That’s how we grew up,” The Brooklyn College alum told
Vanity Fair.

“Any person from a recent ethnic group could tell you that we spoke both
languages. And usually, you got to the point where the kids were talking in English and parents
are answering in Spanish.”

CUNY is no stranger to contributing to the success of award-winning movies. Disney’s “Soul,” a
movie whose main character was based on Queens College alumnus and music teacher Peter
Archer, took home the Oscar for Best Animated Film in last year’s award ceremony.

CUNY’s powerful cultural and influential hand in producing memorable films only bolsters the
college system’s strong relationship with the Puerto Rican community.

Future filmmakers should look toward forming professional bonds with more colleges and
cultural institutions to make storytelling full of accuracy and diversity.