For more than four decades, screen mavens have been eagerly awaiting the time when Steven Spielberg would bite the bullet and make a full-blown movie musical. Now he’s done it. It comes out at Christmastime.
And he’s going to be canceled for it.
Yes, sometime around Thanksgiving, Spielberg — whose work over more than half a century now runs the gamut from unprecedented blockbusters and franchises (“Jaws,” “Indiana Jones,” “Jurassic Park”) to painful works about hinge moments in history (“Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan”) — is going to go through the fires of cultural and political hell.
Let me explain.
Two years ago, when he announced he was going into production on “West Side Story,” Hollywood cognoscenti understood Spielberg was swinging for the fences as a potential capstone of his glorious career.
The most successful director of all time remaking a beloved 1961 film that itself won an Academy Award for Best Picture and nine others besides? He would only take such a reputational risk if he saw gold — Oscar gold — at the end of the rainbow.
The eagerness to see what Spielberg could do as the director of a musical arises from a five-minute dance number he included in his notorious flop “1941” back in 1979, in which a sailor evades a beatdown from a soldier in a USO hall by sliding under tables, running up the sides of walls and Lindy-hopping himself to safety.
The scene is just staggering, and Spielberg matched it a few years later with a full-on MGM-style fantasy production number that opens “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
But while he was born to make a musical, a guy like Spielberg can’t just make any musical. If he’s going for it, he’s going to go for the best — and moreover, one that offers the visceral emotional impact of his most memorable films, while assuaging his and Hollywood’s liberal social conscience.
What better material for this than “West Side Story”? The 1957 Broadway show brilliantly adapted “Romeo and Juliet” by combining Shakespeare’s tragedy of teenage romance through two hot-button issues: juvenile delinquency and ethnic strife.
As you probably remember, the Jets are a white gang. The Sharks are a Puerto Rican gang. They are fighting over turf. A Jet falls in love with the sister of a Shark. Tragedy ensues.
So why will he get canceled? Simple. Lin-Manuel Miranda and his co-author Quiara Alegria Hudes have just been eaten alive on social media and in the pages of The New Yorker and The Washington Post for supposedly mishandling the “representation” of Hispanics in the recently released “In the Heights.”
Miranda is the most celebrated culture creator of Puerto Rican descent. Hudes is a Pulitzer-winning Puerto Rican playwright. And they stand charged — and, therefore, convicted, given the guilty-until-proven-innocent logic of social media — of a form of cultural genocide because their movie somehow made “invisible” Latinos of a darker skin hue.
In a world in which Miranda can be accused of crimes against humanity by creating and producing the most mainstream Hispanic cultural product in history, what chance does Spielberg have in surviving the totalitarian commissars of our time looking to send artists to the cultural gulag for offenses they make up on the spot?
He doesn’t. Let’s talk turkey here. Spielberg is a Jew. His screenwriter, Tony Kushner, is a Jew. Kushner adapted a screenplay by Ernest Lehman, who was a Jew. The four authors of the Broadway show — Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins — were Jews.
The commissars love to talk about the evil of “cultural appropriation.” The most beloved number in the show, “America,” features the Puerto Rican characters having a hilarious argument in song about whether life was better in the old days in San Juan or here in New York. Bernstein’s spectacular music is inflected with mariachi. Sondheim’s brilliant lyrics play on broken English.
The raging, petulant, stupid but click-baity op-eds write themselves, all of which will share this implicit message: Jews stole our music, insulted our accents and are making bank on our pain.
The original librettist of “West Side Story,” Arthur Laurents, anticipated some of this back in 2010 when, at the astounding age of 90, he directed a beautiful revival of the show on Broadway. He had lyrics for two of the songs, “A Boy Like That” and “I Feel Pretty,” reworked into Spanish to make them more authentic.
The person he hired to do that was . . . Lin-Manuel Miranda.
So say bye-bye to Oscar, Steven. I’m sure you’re already having your people working on drafts of a conciliatory op-ed explaining yourself. Pro tip: It won’t save you. Not even you. If Lin-Manuel Miranda can get canceled, so can you.