‘West Side Story’ Star Rachel Zegler Invited to the Oscars After Backlash

At only 20 years old, Rachel Zegler has already risen to prominence in Hollywood for her critically acclaimed role in Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story as Maria

Rachel Zegler West Side Story

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 29: Rachel Zegler attends the New York premiere of West Side Story on November 29, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for 20th Century Studios)

At only 20 years old, Rachel Zegler has already risen to prominence in Hollywood for her critically acclaimed role in Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story as Maria. She is the youngest person in history to receive a Golden Globe and was the first Latina to win the National Board of Review’s Best Actress award since 1998 for her performance in WSS. Next, she will be starring in Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2022) and is currently filming Disney’s remake of Snow White in London. Despite her huge successes so far and her lead role in WSS, which is nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, the Colombian American actress revealed that she’d been denied a ticket for Sunday night’s ceremony. After huge Internet backlash and pressure on the Academy, Zegler was finally invited to be an awards presenter at the Oscars, according to The Hollywood Reporter. But the whole ordeal is just another example of how Latinx performers are excluded from important opportunities in Hollywood even with calls for diversity and inclusion. 

The situation started when one of Zegler’s followers commented on her latest Instagram post, “Can’t wait to see what you’ll be wearing on Oscar night.” Zegler replied, “I’m not invited so sweatpants and my boyfriend’s flannel,” sparking online backlash from fans and celebrities on her behalf. She went on to share that she repeatedly tried but had yet to get an invite. 

Gloria Calderón Kellett, the Cuban American co-creator of One Day at a Time, was one of many in the industry who voiced their outrage in support of Zegler. She tweeted, “Hey @ABCNetwork You moved the ONE Latine show you have to Hulu and @TheAcademy claims to want to embrace diversity. How about the rare time that Latine people have a movie nominated for an OSCAR you invite the lead. Latine people are 18.5% of this country. ENOUGH!” It was recently announced that Promised Land moved from ABC to Hulu and the network also airs The Academy Awards.

Even industry veteran and Academy voting member Russ Tamblyn, best known for his role as Riff in the original West Side Story, chimed in, tweeting, “When they say representation matters, this is what that means. Please do right by her.” THR did note that it was the studio’s responsibility to invite Zegler, in this case it’s Disney, and that she hadn’t been individually nominated for an Oscar, and that the current pandemic limited the number of tickets to attend the ceremony. 

But for many, it was yet more proof that Hollywood, which has historically favored white non-Latinx actors, still doesn’t value its performers from marginalized communities. It especially hurt that Zegler was a lead actress in one of the most awarded films of 2021 that featured a largely Latinx cast. And still the Academy   couldn’t guarantee her a seat without first facing huge public pressure. It’s not unusual to see the full cast of films nominated for best picture to be at the ceremony – we’ve seen them swarm the stage when the best film winner is announced so it’s odd to imagine WSS winning and the lead actress not being there.

Zegler shared The Academy’s tweet announcing she’s one of the show’s presenters and added a statement: “Well folks, i can’t believe i’m saying this but… see you on Sunday! the absolutely incredible team at@Disney and our snow white producers worked some real-life magic, and i am thrilled to be able to celebrate my @westsidemovie fam at the oscars.” She will be flying to Los Angeles this week to attend the ceremony since she’s filming Snow White in London.

While it’s the ending we wanted for this story, there’s still so much work to be done to increase diversity in the Oscars when it comes to recognizing the work of Latinx creators. But for now we’ll be tuning in and cheering on Zegler and the film’s best supporting actress nominee, Afro-Latina Ariana DeBose.

The Oscars  will air on ABC on Sunday, March 27 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT 

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Colombia Featured Latina Actress Oscars oscars 2022 Rachel Zegler trending up and coming Latina actresses West Side Story
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