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S35 Ep19

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It

Premiere: 10/5/2021 | 00:02:02 |

Discover how Moreno defied her humble upbringing and racism to become one of a select group of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award winners. Explore her 70-year career with new interviews, clips of her iconic roles and scenes of the star on set today.

About the Episode

Over a career spanning more than 70 years, Rita Moreno defied both her humble upbringing and relentless racism to become a celebrated and award-winning actor. American Masters — Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It explores the star’s rich, decades-long career using vérité footage of Moreno today, archival footage of her roles and appearances, reenactments of her childhood, animation and interviews with Moreno, those close to her and performers she influenced. Film interviewees include Gloria Estefan, Morgan Freeman, Mitzi Gaynor, Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria, Justina Machado, Terrence McNally, Karen Olivo, as well as Norman Lear and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who are also executive producers on the project. American Masters — Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It premieres nationwide Tuesday, October 5 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and the PBS Video app in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Born into poverty on a Puerto Rican farm, Moreno and her seamstress mother immigrated to New York City when Moreno was five years old. After studying dance and performing on Broadway, Moreno was cast as any ethnic minority the Hollywood studios needed filled: Polynesian, Native American, Egyptian and more. Despite becoming the first Latina actress to win an Academy Award for her role as Anita in “West Side Story” (1961), the studios continued to offer Moreno lesser roles as stereotypical ethnic minorities, ignoring her proven talent.

Beyond the racism she experienced as a Latina actor, American Masters — Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It explores the lesser-known struggles Moreno faced on her path to stardom, including pernicious Hollywood sexism and sexual abuse, a toxic relationship with Marlon Brando and an attempted suicide a year before she won her Oscar. The documentary also revisits her notable roles, including The Electric Company (PBS), the Broadway and feature film version of “The Ritz,” Oz and, most recently, One Day at a Time. The documentary demonstrates Moreno’s talent and resilience as she broke barriers, paved the way for new generations of artists by refusing to be pigeonholed and fought for Latinx representation in a variety of genres.

“As a filmmaker, woman and Puerto Rican, I am proud to have the opportunity to tell Rita’s story,” said director Mariem Pérez Riera. “Her many victories in the face of prejudice are an inspiration to me. Hopefully, this film will give strength to the women all over the world, who today, face a similar fight towards equality.”

The film world premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2021 and had a successful theatrical run.

Immediately following the documentary’s premiere, American Masters and VOCES co-present Lights, Camera, Acción, a short documentary directed by Ben DeJesus. Lights, Camera, Acción is a celebration of the incredible impact Latinos have made in Hollywood — past, present and future, with a focus on the exciting new wave of talent that is blazing their own trail in the industry. Featuring prominent Latinx voices in film and television, this special captures the candid perspectives of talent from in front of and behind the camera, as they share their personal journeys and outlook on the future. Included are actors Edward James Olmos, John Leguizamo, Eva Longoria, Jimmy Smits, Gina Torres, Justina Machado and Xolo Maridueña (Cobra Kai); showrunners Tanya Saracho (Vida), Peter Murrieta (Mr. Iglesias) and Marvin Lemus (Gentefied), and more.

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PRODUCTION CREDITS

About ACT III Productions
Founded in 1985, ACT III Productions is a media company dedicated to creating and producing content that both entertains and generates conversation. Under the leadership of CEO, Norman Lear, and his producing partner, Brent Miller, ACT III joined the Sony Pictures Entertainment family in 2018 with a first look deal. Known for programs like the critically acclaimed reimagining of One Day at A Time (Netflix / POP), docuseries America Divided (Epix), and the Jimmy Kimmel co-production Live In Front of a Studio Audience…(ABC), ACT III remains committed to illuminating our social and political realities while diversifying the media landscape.

About American Masters
Launched in 1986 on PBS, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 14 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, American Masters offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the American Masters Podcast, educational resources and more. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and also seen on the WORLD channel. The series is available for streaming simultaneously on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video app, which is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast. PBS station members can view episodes via Passport (contact your local PBS station for details).

About The WNET Group
The WNET Group creates inspiring media content and meaningful experiences for diverse audiences nationwide. It is the community-supported home of New York’s THIRTEEN – America’s flagship PBS station – WLIW21, THIRTEEN PBSKids, WLIW World and Create; NJ PBS, New Jersey’s statewide public television network; Long Island’s only NPR station WLIW-FM; ALL ARTS, the arts and culture media provider; and newsroom NJ Spotlight News. Through these channels and streaming platforms, The WNET Group brings arts, culture, education, news, documentary, entertainment and DIY programming to more than five million viewers each month. The WNET Group’s award-winning productions include signature PBS series Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend and Amanpour and Company and trusted local news programs MetroFocus and NJ Spotlight News with Briana Vannozzi. Inspiring curiosity and nurturing dreams, The WNET Group’s award-winning Kids’ Media and Education team produces the PBS KIDS series Cyberchase, interactive Mission US history games, and resources for families, teachers and caregivers. A leading nonprofit public media producer for nearly 60 years, The WNET Group presents and distributes content that fosters lifelong learning, including multiplatform initiatives addressing poverty, jobs, economic opportunity, social justice, understanding and the environment. Through Passport, station members can stream new and archival programming anytime, anywhere. The WNET Group represents the best in public media. Join us.

UNDERWRITING

American Masters — Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It is a production of American Masters Pictures and Act III in association with Maramara Films and Artemis Rising Foundation. Michael Kantor, Regina K. Scully, Norman Lear, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Lyn Davis Lear are executive producers. Brent Miller is producer. Mariem Pérez Riera is producer and director. Ilia Vélez Dávila is co-producer. Michael Kantor is executive producer of American Masters.

Original episode program production funding provided by Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, and Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment.

Support for American Masters is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AARP, Rosalind P. Walter, Judith & Burton Resnick, Vital Projects Fund, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Seton J. Melvin, Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen & James S. Marcus,  Lenore Hecht Foundation, Michael and Helen Schaffer Foundation, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation and public television viewers.

TRANSCRIPT

- She comes with history.

- Hello, cutie.

- Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony.

- I was really drawn to her.

She made me feel like women could do anything because she did.

She was a Latina, like me.

- She just brings such authority and such honesty to whatever she's playing.

- Some people might view Rita Moreno as the embodiment of the American dream.

- At the age of 16 years old, she was the sole breadwinner for her family.

- Little Puerto Rican girl, who nobody thought much of at MGM with a contract.

(dramatic music) I really was very often treated like a sex object.

- The studio had asked contract players to go out on pretend dates.

- Before I know it, he's forcing himself on me.

- When you're in a contract to a studio, they own you.

- Don't you touch me.

I think sometimes there are wounds that simply don't heal well.

- She made herself into somebody she wasn't for a very long time.

- For the very first time in my life, I felt very useful.

- She really cares about issues.

And then she is just full of you know what and vinegar.

- Wear your nationality like a flag.

Be proud of it!

Be proud you're Puerto Rican!

Be proud your negro!

- We always have to prove we're worthwhile.

That's a lot of work.

- At 87, with a hit show, and a movie in the works.

It's a remake of West Side Story with Latino actors in the lead roles.

- If we thought there was no place for us in this world of the arts that we wanted to get into, we could look up and see Rita, and say, okay, well she could do it.

How close can I get?

(upbeat music)

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