Gender In West Side Story

1730 Words 7 Pages
“I Feel Pretty,” white patriarchy, and entrapment in West Side Story For many film musical fans, West Side Story (Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins, 1961), is a difficult film. While the creativity and artistry of West Side Story instill a sense of joy, the film exemplifies some troubling ideas about race and gender. This conflict is exceptionally visible in the number “I Feel Pretty”, a song which undoubtedly strives to be a genuine celebration of love and self-confidence. In fact, Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz praises the song for “allowing her [Maria] to show some sexual initiative and desire” (Acevedo-Muñoz 106). However, to a modern, critical eye, the number exemplifies some very troubling ideas about female sexuality, race, and freedom. The sequence …show more content…
This vision of Maria sets up a number full of bridal themes that will persist through much of the song. One could dismiss the bridal motif as mere plot foreshadowing, as the scene does precede Tony and Maria’s staged “wedding scene”. However, in the context of the rest of the number, Maria’s bridal role takes on more overtly patriarchal meaning. The film gives some very clear signs that the role of “the bride” is forced upon her unwillingly. When she first meets Tony (Richard Beymer), she is wearing white- a clearly symbolic choice of color to convey that Maria is both neutral in the gang wars and pure and virginal, like a bride. However, in the previous scene, we see her arguing with her sister-in-law, Anita (Rita Moreno), begging her to dye the dress red- a Shark color and a …show more content…
This tone is set even before Maria starts singing, as she is gleefully admiring herself in the mirror. One of her coworkers at the bridal shop wonders “What has Chino done to her?” This line mimics Maria’s later attribution of her happiness to Tony and frames the film in an uncomfortable space where the only reason a woman can be happy is if their male admirers “do something” to them. Perhaps even more troublingly, later in the song, Maria’s coworkers see her gleefully dancing about and sing “Send for Chino, this is not the Maria we know”. This statement is problematic on many levels. For one, they are implying that Maria’s happiness is somehow unusual or out of character and needs to be “fixed”. For another, the only person who can fix this is her fiancée, Chino, even though just moments earlier, he was accused of causing Maria’s giddy behavior. The message of these frankly nonsensical lyrics is that a woman’s body and emotions are in the sole control of their male

Related Documents