This ivy-adorned old forge in West Cork is on the market for €225,000
This ivy-adorned old forge in West Cork is on the market for €225,000

Sarah Finnan

This Victorian Dublin 8 home with a garden room is on the market for €950,000
This Victorian Dublin 8 home with a garden room is on the market for €950,000

Megan Burns

A fun, family-friendly festival is coming to Wicklow this summer
A fun, family-friendly festival is coming to Wicklow this summer

IMAGE

Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy: Could it all boil down to a pound of flesh?
Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy: Could it all boil down to a pound of flesh?

Sarah Finnan

PODCAST: Melanie Morris & Sinead McSweeney: Episode 9
PODCAST: Melanie Morris & Sinead McSweeney: Episode 9

IMAGE

Five of the very best outdoor food experiences coming up across Ireland
Five of the very best outdoor food experiences coming up across Ireland

Sarah Gill

5 lesser-known romantic getaways around Ireland that will get your heart racing
5 lesser-known romantic getaways around Ireland that will get your heart racing

Sarah Gill

Bedroom in need of a refresh? Gorgeous bedsheets are the easy update that will look good all year round
Bedroom in need of a refresh? Gorgeous bedsheets are the easy update that will look...

Megan Burns

Monthlies: The customisable Irish period subscription box helping you ‘own your flow’
Monthlies: The customisable Irish period subscription box helping you ‘own your flow’

Sarah Finnan

The finest female-owned businesses selling corsets fit for a princess
The finest female-owned businesses selling corsets fit for a princess

Sarah Gill

Image / Agenda / Image Writes

Rachel Zegler Oscars snub: The female stars of ‘West Side Story’ are being punished again


By Lauren Heskin
21st Mar 2022

@rachelzegler

Rachel Zegler Oscars snub: The female stars of ‘West Side Story’ are being punished again

In today’s game of How Sexist Is This, 'West Side Story' star Rachel Zegler has revealed that she hasn't been invited to this year's Oscars ceremony... despite seven award nominations and being the film's leading lady.

Steven Spielberg’s highly anticipated remake of West Side Story finally hit cinemas and a number of high notes with critics, who praised not only correct casting (unlike the 1961 version, Spielberg hired a Latina actress, newcomer Rachel Zegler, to play the Latina lead, Maria) but its cinematic prowess, courtesy of Spielberg’s signature talent for the wider shots.

However, the film has not been without its controversies that looks like it may have impacted its box office, barely making back $40 million on its $100 million production. Holding out for a big Hollywood release, West Side Story’s release was postponed during the pandemic, only launching in cinemas in 2021 despite being filmed in 2019. 

Ansel Elgort sexual assault accusations

During the intervening time, lead actor Ansel Elgort was accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old in 2014 when he was 20. The accuser Tweeted screenshots and photographs of the two of them together, before eventually deleting her account. He denied the accusation and said that the incident was entirely consensual.

Four more women then came forward, again with receipts, stating that Elgort had reached out to them on social media when they were aged between 14 and 16 and he 20 and 21, requesting to go on dates and soliciting pictures of “ something sexy” as well as sending dick pics.

Aside from his one statement in response to the first accuser, Elgort made no comment on any of the others and essentially removed himself from social media for more than a year, only reviving his account for promotional purposes for West Side Story.

West Side Story reaction

So what does this have to do with West Side Story, you might ask? With the film languishing in the “please wait” aisle as news of these accusations spread, fans began demanding that the movie recast Tony entirely and reshoot all of his scenes. A rather big undertaking for an expensive film during a very uncertain time of films in general.

Spielberg’s team opted not to recast and instead proceed as planned for a 2021 release, which, considering Elgort was never legally accused of anything seems like a rational decision. Innocent until proven guilty etc.

However, they also refused to address the accusations and rather than ask Elgort to confront them head-on, opted to relieve him from much of his press duties for the film. Elgort only showed up in a handful of cast interviews in controlled environments. Typically, a long list of press tour obligations would be written into the contract of the leads of any big film, requiring them to attend a substantial number of interviews and international premieres. 

Clearly, the creative heads at West Side Story were concerned Elgort would be pressed about the accusations (correct), exposing their lead to uncomfortable headlines (God forbid) and potentially overshadowing the film even more than it already has. They even cut him for much of the pre-release trailers.

Hiding one exposes the other

But didn’t Elgort deserve to at least be pressed? Shouldn’t he and the production team want to come out in front of this, face it head-on and then hope to move on? Hiding him only drags the questions out, offering Elgort the easy way out while his co-stars are placed in the scorching limelight. He continued to cash his hefty paycheck as a star in one of the biggest movie productions of the decade, while his co-stars were contractually obliged to face questions about these accusations.

If West Side Story production can make the financial decision to stand by Elgort and not recast the role of Tony, there should also be a requirement for Elgort to step up and face those accusations. Sheltering him from the press only leaves his co-stars out in the cold, especially the female lead, Rachel Zegler, who made her acting debut in the film.

Zegler spent much of the film’s press trip side-stepping questions regarding her co-star. That is, until this week when the film’s three female leads, Zegler, Rita Moreno and Anita DeBose, were levelled with the question head-on.

“Nobody really knows what’s going on in anyone’s head. Only the people who were involved in that situation know what actually went down,” Ariana DeBose, who played Anita, told The Hollywood Reporter. ??“We made a movie two and a half years ago, and a lot has gone on in the world since then. … A lot has changed very publicly and privately as well,” said Zegler. “There’s been a lot of awakening. You just hope that the people involved are OK, that they are asked in a respectful manner and that they are given the opportunity to answer for themselves.”

Let’s repeat that: Ask that they are given the opportunity to answer for themselves.

Zegler was more or less plucked from obscurity for the role of Maria. With Elgort already cast, the team wanted a newcomer and auditioned thousands of actresses before the 19-year-old from New Jersey won the part. Undoubtedly thrilled with the breakout role of a lifetime, she’s hardly in a position to make demands that perhaps a much more seasoned actress could, such as refusing to be Elgort de-facto spokesperson in his absence.

It is not the responsibility of these women to answer for Ansel Elgort. Contractually obligated, they can’t back out of interviews. No actress, of any age or experience, should be expected to carry that burden and it’s particularly unfair on Zegler who is only making her way into the industry.

By sheltering Elgort, West Side Story has only inflicted further harm onto its female stars, compounding their own silence by requiring them to speak up.

Oscars snub 

Then this week, the plot thickened once again when Zegler revealed that she won’t be attending this year’s Academy Awards ceremony… because she didn’t get an invite. Responding to a fan’s comment about what she’ll be wearing to the prestigious event, the actress wrote back, “I’m not invited so sweatpants and my boyfriend’s flannel”.

As noted by Variety, film studios are typically allotted an “undefined” number of tickets to the Oscars, which they then distribute to cast members of their nominated movies. However, despite West Side Story’s success – the film received a total of seven nominations, including Best Picture – it seems that Zegler was overlooked and was not given an invite to the all-important affair. 

Naturally, the admission has sparked a wave of outrage online, with thousands of supporters calling on Disney to reconsider, but to no avail. “Idk y’all I have tried it all but it doesn’t seem to be happening,” she wrote in another comment. “I will root for West Side Story from my couch and be proud of the work we so tirelessly did three years ago. I hope some last-minute miracle occurs and I can celebrate our film in person but hey, that’s how it goes sometimes, I guess. Thanks for all the shock and outrage – I’m disappointed too. But that’s ok. So proud of our movie.”

Already winning the Golden Globe for Lead Actress in a Comedy or Musical along with Best Actress at the National Board of Review – she’s only the second Latina to ever win the prize and the youngest – Zegler has more than impressed with her performance, and the decision to exclude her from this year’s Oscars ceremony seems like a very pointed move. 

While it’s yet unclear whether her co-star, Ansel, will be in attendance, it certainly wouldn’t say much for the company if only the male lead was invited… especially given how the women of the movie have so far been punished for his actions.