NEW YORK — (PRNewswire) — 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 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.
Now in its 35th season on PBS, American Masters was recently nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards. The series illuminates the lives and creative journeys of our nation’s most enduring artistic giants—those who have left an indelible impression on our cultural landscape—through compelling, unvarnished stories. Setting the standard for documentary film profiles, the series has earned widespread critical acclaim and 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 14 Peabodys, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, an Oscar, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of more than 250 masters past and present, the American Masters website offers full episodes, film outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the American Masters Podcast, educational resources, digital original series, and more. The series is a production of The WNET Group.
American Masters — Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It will be available for streaming concurrently with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast, and VIZIO. PBS station members can view many series, documentaries, and specials via PBS Passport. For more information about PBS Passport, visit the PBS Passport FAQ website.
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