Rita Moreno is a legend. It is the most simple, yet most complex way to describe her. She has been working in the entertainment industry for over 75 years with an accumulation of hundreds of projects, movies, documentaries, musicals, and awards, but her most important legacy is her relentless fight against typecasting and for fair representation of Latinos and women not only in Hollywood, but in media and life.
In 1961, her breakout role as Anita in West Side Story won her an Oscar, the first Latina to ever receive the award. But what happened after this historic win was not a fairytale filled with opportunities. On the contrary, there were little or no roles for Latino actors in Hollywood. That limited her work substantially and nearly forced her to quit acting.
“Theater productions always saved my life, because there was room for me as an actress, and also I could dance and sing.” [Moreno]
Moreno comes from a modest background - she grew up in poverty. Her father was a farmer and her mother a seamstress. After moving to New York City with her mother at the age of 6, she began dance lessons and landed her first Broadway role by the time she was 13. She has since starred in more than 40 feature films, and countless television shows.
Despite all of the challenges Moreno has encountered in her life and career, she has prevailed. The Puerto Rican has accomplished something that only 15 entertainers have ever done - achieving an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony).
“I’ll tell you exactly what advice I would give to a younger me. I would say, stop feeling like you don‘t deserve anything. You have value. Whatever it is that you are has value and worth.” [Moreno]
Moreno continues to thrive because she is unstoppable! She co-stars in the critically acclaimed Latinx reimagining of ‘One Day At A Time’, which is currently on Netflix and CBS All Access.
A documentary about Moreno’s life entitled ‘Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It’ premiered on January 29th during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Mariem Pérez Riera, “the film chronicles Moreno from her early years in Puerto Rico through her childhood as an immigrant in New York City and the racial bias she faced in the studio system, while breaking down barriers and overcoming sexism and identity discrimination with integrity.”
She also co-stars and serves as an Executive Producer in the Steven Spielberg remake of West Side Story, scheduled for a December 2021 release. This remake of the film that launched her to fame nearly 60 years ago, is bound to be remarkably inspiring for the next generation of Latinas.
We thank you, Rita, for upholding your strength, courage and passion for your work and for standing up for what is right.You will always be the example for all of us. Without you, we would not have this list of Latina Powerhouses. Congratulations, Rita, the ultimate Latina Powerhouse!
“What equality to me means is really very simple- equality means having the freedom to be who you are without accommodating somebody else’s idea of what is a woman.” [Moreno]