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Spielberg opens doors to Latino artists with new ‘West Side Story’ version

Steven Spielberg marks a milestone in US film history by insisting on an authentic Latinx cast for his remake of the musical “West Side Story,” opening worldwide this week.

For the film, an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway play and 1961 movie, Spielberg not only recruited young Latinx artists but also researched what life was like for Puerto Ricans in the 1960s in New York.

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The 1961 film, a story of love and rivalry inspired by “Romeo and Juliet”, involving a gang of white youth, the Jets, and a gang of Puerto Rican immigrants, the Sharks, won 10 Oscars.
Yet the only Latin actor in it was Rita Moreno, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Anita. Natalie Wood starred as the young Puerto Rican immigrant Maria, whose forbidden romance with a white teen is at the heart of the movie.
The new version couldn’t be more different.
“I wanted to cast it authentically, to ensure that the actors playing the Shark boys and girls were 100 percent Latinx, and young,” Spielberg said.
Spielberg spent more than a year looking for his cast, including in Latin America and Australia. Twenty cast members are Puerto Ricans or descendants of Puerto Ricans, including Moreno, now 89, who plays a different role this time around.
Latinos are the largest minority in the United States, forming 19 percent of the population but are vastly under-represented in film and television, numerous studies have found.
“He is using his privilege to say, well, if I can do it, everybody can, and pay respects to the culture and create a film in an epic fashion that is made with such integrity,” said Ariana DeBose, the Afro-Latina actress and dancer who plays Anita, of Spielberg.

‘A huge step forward’

Rich backstories are created for each character in the new “West Side Story.” Some of the scenes are entirely in Spanish dialogue without subtitles.
“That language had to exist in equal proportions alongside English,” said Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay.
Spielberg said he hoped audiences will “sit in the theater together, so the English-speaking audiences will suddenly hear laughter coming from pockets of the theater from the Spanish-speaking audience.”
The creative team also included Venezuelan orchestral conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who recorded the new soundtrack.
David Alvarez, who is of Cuban descent and plays Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, calls the emphasis on authentic casting “a huge step forward.”
Alvarez said this “West Side Story,” and the musical “In the Heights” from earlier this year, which also had a strong Latino cast, were signs that the United States “is beginning to realize that the Latino community here is much larger and they are recognizing us.”
“It is a beautiful thing to see that we are finally taking a step forward … We are here, we want to be part of America, we want to integrate ourselves with this society”, Alvarez said.
For DeBose, the new “West Side Story” sends a timely message of love and tolerance at a time of increasing racial violence in America.
“One of the most beautiful lessons of ‘West Side Story’ is that these two groups of people have more commonalities than they do differences, and that fits to some larger issues we have in society globally,” DeBose said.
“There has never been a better time for ‘West Side Story’ to remind people that we are better when we stand together.”

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No laughing matter: UK vows crackdown on nitrous oxide use

Britain’s government said Sunday it plans to ban sales of small canisters of laughing gas as part of a wider crackdown on anti-social behavior heading into elections.

Communities Secretary Michael Gove vowed to save city centers and parks from turning into “drug-taking arenas” — and denied that the government was failing to tackle woeful prosecution rates for crimes such as rape.

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Public spaces should no longer be littered with the “scourge” of small canisters of nitrous oxide used by people to get a quick high, he said, even as experts warned that a ban would be counter-productive.

Gove, a former journalist, has admitted to taking cocaine in the past. He told Sky News that he had learned that taking drugs was a “mistake.”

British law already bans the “knowing or reckless” supply of nitrous oxide for inhalation outside of medical uses. But the canis-ters are easily bought online and on the streets.

Prolonged use can cause anaemia, nerve damage and spinal in-juries, doctors warn. There were 36 deaths in Britain associated with misuse of nitrous oxide between 2001 and 2016, official data show.

The Conservative government has been stepping up its get-tough rhetoric on a range of issues, including illegal immigration, as it tries to revive its standing in opinion polls ahead of local elections in May.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected Monday to outline a series of measures to tackle low-level crime, which pollsters say is rising up voters’ list of concerns as a cost-of-living crisis bites.

Downing Street said the plans will include vandals and daubers of graffiti being forced to wear jumpsuits or hi-vis jackets while they carry out tasks in public as punishment.

Police will gain new powers to tackle anti-social behavior on the spot — but critics warned that public trust in UK police forces was already at a low ebb after a series of shocking crimes by serving officers.
The opposition Labour party, which is riding high in the polls, accused the Conservatives of reheating old policies that had already failed.

“We hear these sort of re-boots and another re-boot and another announcement to get the Sunday media attention, but I think it amounts to nothing,” senior Labour lawmaker Lucy Powell said on Sky.

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Reese Witherspoon, husband Jim Toth make ‘difficult decision to divorce’

Oscar-winning actor and producer Reese Witherspoon and her talent agent husband Jim Toth said on Friday they had made the “difficult decision to divorce.”

The pair tied the knot in March 2011 at Witherspoon’s ranch in Ojai, California, northwest of Los Angeles. In September 2012, the couple welcomed a baby boy named Tennessee James.

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“We have enjoyed so many wonderful years together and are moving forward with deep love, kindness, and mutual respect for everything we have created together,” the couple said in a joint statement posted on Witherspoon’s Instagram account.

“Our biggest priority is our son and our entire family as we navigate this next chapter.”

Witherspoon has two older children – daughter Ava and son Deacon with first husband Ryan Phillippe. The couple divorced in 2007.

Witherspoon, 47, who grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, won an best actress Oscar for her work on 2005 country music film “Walk the Line.” She has also produced several films and television shows including “Big Little Lies” and “The Morning Show.”

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Gwyneth Paltrow testifies she was struck from behind in ski collision

Oscar-winning actor Gwyneth Paltrow took the stand on Friday to testify that she was not at fault for a 2016 ski slope collision in Utah that left a man with a concussion and broken ribs, contradicting testimony from the lone witness to the incident.

Paltrow, 50, said during cross examination that she was skiing with her two children, and said that in fact she was struck by Terry Sanderson, a 76-year-old retired optometrist who filed a lawsuit seeking more than $300,000 in damages over the incident at the Deer Valley Resort in Utah.

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In court papers, Sanderson said he suffered “permanent traumatic brain injury” as a result of the collision. He initially had sought $3.1 million in damages.

“I was skiing and two skis came between my skis, forcing my legs apart, and then there was a body pressing against me and there was a very strange grunting noise,” Paltrow said.

Paltrow said that is when they both fell to the ground with Paltrow on top of Sanderson, in a heap of skis and limbs.

Paltrow has filed a counter claim in Summit County District Court seeking a symbolic $1 in damages and lawyer fees.

Paltrow, who is also known for her Goop lifestyle brand, called into question prior testimony from Craig Ramon, a friend of Sanderson’s who said he heard a scream before he saw Paltrow crash into the retired optometrist.

Paltrow denied the accusation, claiming that Ramon was 40 feet away and unable to discern who was at fault.

Paltrow also refuted claims by Sanderson that she had skied off and ignored rules to share contact information with another party after an accident.

A Deer Valley Resort staff member, who was providing Paltrow and her family lessons and did not see the collision, stayed behind to provide contact information to Sanderson, she said.

The instructor, Eric Christiansen, is expected to testify next week.

Paltrow, who said she was upset and cursed at Sanderson after the collision, said she did not ski off until after Sanderson told Christiansen that he was fine.

“I did not cause the accident, so I cannot be at fault for anything that subsequently happened to him,” Paltrow said.

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