Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 8 p.m.
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,” presented by “American Masters,” explores the star’s rich, decades-long career using vérité footage of Moreno today.
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, “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.