Rita Moreno is not only an icon in Hollywood, she is a female trailblazer, and this film illustrates why. Moreno was the first Latina to win an Academy Award® for her role in West Side Story. Later, Moreno became the first Latina woman to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar® and a Tony, known as an “E.G.O.T.” In 2004, she was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her many contributions to the arts. Her many accomplishments are monumental. However, this film reveals a very vulnerable and open Rita Moreno.
Director, Mariem Pérez Riera, created an intimate portrait displaying Moreno, at times, with no makeup, no wig and emotionally exposed. Pérez Riera stated, “All of that was important to show…she is first a woman and then a star.” The film opens to Moreno telling the story about how she got her first big break. A close connection to Louis B. Mayer (cofounder of MGM Studios) saw Moreno perform. After the show, he handed his business card to Moreno’s mother; a meeting was later set up for Moreno and her mother to meet with Mayer at his penthouse apartment at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Mayer looked her up and down and offered her a contract. That was it. “You work your ass off and it didn’t take anything but a connection,” Moreno recalls.
Moreno later discloses how Mayer subjected her to sexual harassment at an afternoon party at the home of a whiskey distiller. She also reveals that she was raped by her agent and how that affected her performance in West Side Story. Moreno explains that the entertainment “business is built and funded predominantly by men” and women played a secondary role. Harassment and discrimination were “normal,” and she did not speak up or resist at that time.
Gloria Estefan explained how Moreno survived by overcoming the challenges of sexual harassment and discrimination because she is Puerto Rican. Estefan continued that harassment, even in the music industry, continues to this day. The film features additional testimonials from Morgan Freeman, Lin Manuel Miranda, Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria, Justina Machado and Karen Olivo and is executive produced by Norman Lear.
Moreno is an activist in the #MeToo movement and is a central force in breaking down barriers for women. She indicates that she would not have been the person she is if she hadn’t had to endure challenges and limitations. “Did having to struggle so much take something out of me? NOT ME.” She continues, “I’m 89 and I’m still here.”