‘Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It’ to premiere on PBS’ ‘American Masters’

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Rita Moreno is seen in “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” by Mariem Pérez Riera, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. [Courtesy of Sundance Institute]

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.

The film features interviews with 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 Oct. 5 on PBS, at pbs.org/ritamoreno and on the PBS Video app in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which continues through Oct. 15.

“As a filmmaker, woman and Puerto Rican, I am proud to have the opportunity to tell Rita’s story,” said director Mariem Pérez Riera in a statement. “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.”

Born into poverty on a farm in Puerto Rico, Moreno and her seamstress mother immigrated to New York City when Moreno was 5 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 on PBS’ “The Electric Company,” on the Broadway and in the feature film version of “The Ritz,” Oz and, most recently, on “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.

The film world premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2021 and had a successful theatrical run.

“American Masters — Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” will be available for streaming concurrent 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.

Immediately following the documentary’s Oct. 5 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 its 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 also are included.

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.

“American Masters — Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” is a production of American Masters Pictures and Act III in association with Maramara Films and Artemis Rising Foundation, according to a news release. Michael Kantor, Regina K. Scully, Norman Lear, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Lyn Davis Lear are executive producers. Brent Miller is producer. Mariem Pérez Riera is producer and director. Ilia Vélez Dávila is co-producer. Michael Kantor is executive producer of American Masters.



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