5 Fabulous Life Lessons From When The New Yorker Met Rita Moreno
Hi, I’m Vicki, I’m 33 years of age, and I get exhausted just thinking about making myself some toast.
But Rita Moreno. Does. Not. Stop.
In June 2021, the renowned actor, dancer, singer, advocate, and EGOT (a rare winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award) is dropping her documentary Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided To Go For It, she’s co-starring in and executive-producing in Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story released this December, AND she’s turning 90 years young at around the same time.
Whatever Rita Moreno is on, you know I want some!
The incandescent puertorriqueña sat down with The New Yorker’s Michael Schulman and let rip about Hollywood’s racism, #MeToo… and costume parties, obviously.
Read on to find out five things you’ll learn from her – because when Rita Moreno speaks, you better know you’re listening.
Enthusiasm is everything
Rita’s not content to just zip around tirelessly with Just A Girl… but she’s also “doing a little movie called The Prank, and a TV show with puppies. It’s just so sweet, and I want to do another one.” The woman can’t sit still!
And she’s thrilled to be returning to the world of West Side Story – where the universe has now somehow righted itself and cast LatinX actors in the lead roles – for a brand-spanking new, specially-written part that isn’t some garbage split-second cameo.
“It doesn’t feel like [a living legend victory lap]… but what’s happening is so wonderful, my efforts are being acknowledged.”
After 70-plus years of dedicated and trailblazing showbiz, it’s about time.
There’s no shame in psychotherapy
Being typecast from a young age in astonishingly racist, “illiterate and immoral ‘island girl’… dusky maiden” roles as Rita refers to them, is going to eff a gal up no matter what century it happens in. “I thought I was fine, wearing makeup the colour of mud. That’s all I ever got, and it began to really hurt.”
Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t watch these movies, and her feelings are unambiguous: “I feel sad. [I felt] I had no value, I was just a little ‘s**c’,” she reflects. “Thank goodness for psychotherapy. It took a psychotherapist 8 years to get me to say, ‘I am a good person, that I have value…’ and I burst into tears.”
Combine disgusting racism with being openly treated as a “spicy, fiery” sex object hired for contracted fake ‘dates’ to appease sleazy executives in Hollywood’s studio-system era… well, it’s no wonder Rita sought help for her mental health.
And when asked about how she feels regarding the #MeToo movement, she says: “It’s thrilling and exciting [for me] to see women valuing themselves!” Well, we’ve made a start on it, that’s for sure.
Glad you saw your own value in the end, Rita.
Don’t lose touch with your heritage
Of her Puerto Rican background, she asserts: “I think it’s very important to represent. I’m going to my homeland to show the documentary… it’s important people understand first and foremost I am a Puerto Rican woman.”
Rita left the Caribbean island when she was five – and still clearly recalls the traumatic and stormy boat journey to the Depression-era United States like it was only yesterday. But arriving was like “a reverse Oz.”
“The Puerto Rican diaspora hadn’t happened yet, and I didn’t know a word of English in kindergarten,” she reveals of confronting huge barriers as a young Latina in US society.
And as we all know, Rita would go on to build one of the most illustrious entertainment careers of modern times – today, she truly embraces all that she is, and always proudly represents her people in an industry where even now LatinX artists remain discriminated against.
But she loves a good costume party – her Puerto Rican-themed soirées are undoubtedly accompanied by Puerto Rican música y comida (when Covid isn’t raging, naturally).
Pass me the tostones!
Lose the stuff that doesn’t serve you anymore
The Academy Awards, “like them or not, are an iconic event,” Rita believes. She should know, she’s got one – along with un montón of others, and they just keep on coming.
But even if you amass a ton of prestigious trophies over the course of your legendary showbiz lifetime, you don’t have to hold on to them when they’re taking up valuable space.
“I got rid of a lot of crap [over the pandemic], because I’m a collector. Some awards are pretty ugly, you have no idea, usually the ones made of marble!”
Moral of the story? Useless stuff: BEGONE!
Yes, even if it’s made of fancy schmancy marble.
Embrace new things
New developments in every field are happening all the time, and there is a lot to be wary about, especially when it comes to technology.
But Rita Moreno welcomes this, happily hosting Zoom calls in her office and posting to the IG grid, stories, and Twitter like any zillennial worth their millennial-pink Himalayan salt.
She shows that you can be at any stage of life and still cultivate the desire to learn new things – and because of this she continues to reach and inspire new generations all over the globe.
She is 89 years young.
Rita Moreno – gracias para todo
Rita Moreno, I salute you and hope to be half as fabulosa as you are when I’m in my eighth decade running around on this weird-ass rock hurtling through space.
And thank you to The New Yorker for hosting your inspirational conversation with her.
¡Viva Rita Moreno!
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided To Go For It is released in US theatres June 18 2021, and you can watch the trailer here.