By Kristin Reiber Harris
Ageism is alive and well in American and Hollywood, that’s not really a surprise. Past NYWIFT Muse Honoree Rita Moreno, who just turned 90, is an incredible inspiration in her tenacity and grace as she has pursued her career on stage and screen for almost 70 years.
Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided to Go For It, directed by Marieum Pérez Riera, recently premiered and is available on Netflix and PBS. I watched this documentary the weekend I was celebrating my 75th birthday. I am lucky to be in good health and feel very energetic. I was humble to watch this film about vivacious Rita Moreno who was 87 when the documentary was filmed. She is clearly dancing circles around me. She continues working today. She has been well recognized for her excellence during her career, winning all of the major awards for entertainers; Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, the coveted EGOT. Moreno was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush and the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama.
She inspires by her energetic presence as she faces 90 but also by the challenges she overcame. She thrived despite them. Born in Puerto Rico in the early 30’s, she came to the United States when she was five. She and her mother arrived in NYC during the depression to a very segregated city that tried to teach Rita that she had no value. Rita acknowledged that these challenges scarred her permanently, despite her very successful career.
Smitten as a young child with the world of entertainment she was taking dancing lessons soon after arriving in New York City. Rita said she decided she wanted to be an entertainer as a young child when she saw her first movie. Her mother was very supportive and as a seamstress helped her dress the part. She soon began dancing professionally and at 16 was the sole breadwinner for her family. When Rita and her mother went to Hollywood to further her career, she looked as much like her role model Elizabeth Taylor as she could. MGM gave her a seven year contract. At MGM she was primarily portraying ethnic women from Indigenous to Hispanic. That type casting would follow her for years.
Her challenges were many but as she says, her middle name is perseverance. Even with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Anita in West Side Story, she could not find work she felt acknowledged her accomplishments. A tumultuous relationship with Marlon Brandon resulted in an attempted suicide. Today Rita emphasizes the value of therapy and examining herself and finding her value.
Learning the details of the obstacles she overcame is only part of the story. When you see her and hear her talk about her life, you realize how grounded she is and how she has used her life experience to become a more fully realized person and role model for others. She has a great sense of humor and is gracious and elegant. Rita, in her dogged determination to pursue her art has found peace and calm she exudes while being a movie star in every sense of the word.
NYWIFT screened Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It in November 2021, followed by an exclusive talkback with Rita Moreno and director Marieum Pérez Riera. Watch the full conversation below.
Welcome to NYWIFT, Candece Tarpley! Candece Tarpley, of Sissipahaw/Tuscarora/Tsalagi descent, is a World Champion Powwow dancer, an actress and a poet-storyteller-playwright who has been writing since childhood. Holding her heritage close, she's been a featured performer nationwide, weaving her crafts with the patrons of the Public Library of Boulder Colorado; Middlebury College in Vermont; Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts; the Pequot Museum in Connecticut; the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Natural History in New York City, as well as other creative venues. Candece spoke to us about how her Indigenous heritage influences her work, the response to her television series, and her next major projects.READ MORE
Meet NYWIFT Member Sweta Keswani! After starring in some critically acclaimed and hugely popular prime time television series in India which made Sweta Keswani a household name, she moved to New York in 2010 for love. She was seen on The Blacklist with James Spader, was recurring on New Amsterdam and AMC’s supernatural thriller Nos4a2. She had a fun role on Apple TV’s dark anthology series Roar and Mayim Bialik’s first directorial feature, As They Made Us, with Dustin Hoffman and Candice Bergen last year. Sweta also appears in The Beanie Bubble, which was released late July in theatres and globally on Apple TV. Sweta continues to hone her craft as an actor, whether it’s being in a stage combat or acting class, working on plays locally, or helping with R&D and as social media consultant for the Remarkable Women docuseries.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Derya Celikkol! A proud graduate of the Experimental Theatre Wing at Tisch Schools of the Arts, Derya Celikkol is a Turkish filmmaker who lives in New York City and has contributed her extraordinary artistry to numerous projects. In addition to acting and production designing, Celikkol has directed and produced films, some of which have been showcased and won awards at film festivals worldwide.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, new member Chloë Levine! Chloë is an award-winning filmmaker who has worked as an actress, director, screenwriter, and producer. Learn more about Chloë as we discuss her 2014 debut short that earned praise at a well-known film festival, some of the screen goddesses that served as her muses during her earlier years, and the wide range of projects she has contributed to artistically, in addition to other fun topics!READ MORE