Moreno, Rita: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It–Docu Honoring the Oscar-Winning Latina

Rita Moreno’s Life and Career Celebrated in New Docu: “She Was the One Who Gave Us Representation”

 

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It
Courtesy of MGM Media Licensing/Sundance Institute

Rita Moreno in ‘West Side Story.’

 

With ‘Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It,’ the 89-year-old EGOT winner gets her due as a trailblazing Latino icon.

“An EGOT? What good’s an EGOT? An EGOT doesn’t fill a deeper need to be loved and taken care of,” says Rita Moreno.

The 89-year-old screen icon, one of only 16 people to win a competitive Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, aka an “EGOT,” is reflecting on her highs and lows, including a doomed affair with Marlon Brando, whom she met in 1954 on the set of the historical romance Désirée.

Moreno got pregnant and Brando insisted she get an abortion. That led to Moreno swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills she’d found in Brando’s medicine cabinet. Had Brando’s assistant not discovered her and rushed her to the hospital, she would have died.

That shocking story is just one of the many in a new documentary about Moreno premiering at Sundance, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It. The film, from director Mariem Pérez Riera , who, like Moreno, is Puerto Rican, humanizes the Oscar-winning star of West Side Story.

“She’s the one who gave us representation of who we are to the world,” says Pérez Riera. “And because she was the first Latina to win an Oscar, she became an icon.”

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
The doc’s title is from bedazzled shirt Moreno wears on the red carpet.
Moreno and Pérez Riera met four years ago on the set of One Day at a Time, the reboot of the Norman Lear sitcom that reimagined its single-parent family as Cuban Americans. One Day was a big success, it ran for two critically acclaimed seasons on Netflix and then two more seasons on Pop.

Not all of the memories are positive: “I’ll never forget showing up to an audition for one of Norman’s shows,” Moreno recalls. “It was to play the wife of Charles Durning.” The year was 1984 and the late character actor was 61; Moreno was 53. “Norman asked me, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I’m here to audition for the wife.’ Norman said, ‘The wife? You’re too young to play the wife!’ I remember leaving and getting into my car and crying for an hour solid.”

It was not Moreno’s first disappointment. After her Oscar win, she spent the next seven years without working at all because she refused to accept roles that were stereotypes. Asked if anyone has ever apologized for typecasting her as “the fiery Latina,” she replies with candor. “Are you crazy?! No! No one has ever apologized.”

Nonetheless, there is a sense with Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It that Moreno is finally getting her due. The film, underwritten by PBS, had virtual Sundance premiere Jan. 29, followed by a theatrical run and a national airing on PBS’ American Masters.

“It’s a good strategy,” says the film’s producer Brent Miller, who plans an awards push for 2022. “It keeps the film on top of mind all year.”