An analytical essay critiquing Latino images in West Side Story

Essay by CalDe21University, Master'sA+, May 2004

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Film. It's a medium that showcases art to its highest potential. It creates emotion and storytelling by using pictures in rapid succession to create the illusion of movement. Some critics herald film as marvelous due to its innovativeness whereas others view film as propagating class differences by solely marketing it's product to a core target audience: Caucasians. Minorities in film have seldom been realistically portrayed thus creating outside groups to form opinions of the subordinate group based on what they see in a variety of movies. Take for example the Latino population. Since the inception of the United States film industry, Latinos have been misrepresented in Hollywood feature films intended primarily for non-Latino audiences. West Side Story is a prime example of a film that contains negative imagery and stereotypes that perpetuates the notion of difference between ethnicities. By analyzing the music, wardrobe, mannerisms, and dialogue within the film, one could easily see stereotypes emerge.

One of the biggest theories within film is that life imitates art and art imitates life. Regardless of what the answer is, it is pivotal to understand the historical events that were taking place during the time West Side Story was created. The Zoot Suit Riots, originating in East L.A. 1943, were one of the many socio and political events that occurred that depicted Latinos as deviant. "Zoot Suits" were extra large suits with long pants and long coats and were very popular with many young men. The press fueled the sentiment against the zoot suits and those who wore them by claiming that these suits used more cloth than was legal under wartime rationing and portraying the wearers of the suits as 4-F's and gangster types (History of East L.A., n.p.). Public opinion associated the zoot suits with Mexican-American gangs. Leading up to the...