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‘One Day at a Time’ Star Rita Moreno on the ‘Odd Resistance’ to Latinx Representation on TV

TheWrap Emmy magazine: ”I like to think that I feel optimistic, but it’s just been such a hard road for me,“ the EGOT winner says

A version of this story about Rita Moreno first appeared in the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

Rita Moreno has a lot of firsts under her belt. She famously was the first Latina to take home an Oscar with a win for “West Side Story” in 1962. She was the first Latinx person to join the exclusive EGOT club after picking up a 1977 Emmy for “The Muppet Show” to go with her Grammy, Oscar and Tony. She’s was the first Latinx actress to be nominated in five different categories at the Emmys. And as recently as last year, she became the first Latinx recipient of the Peabody Career Achievement Honor.

But for all that trailblazing, does Moreno think Hollywood has lived up to the promise of her success in terms of opportunities for other Latinx actors? “Oh, hell no, my God,” she said. “There’s this odd, odd resistance to our progress in terms of film and TV. There’s so little variety when it comes to our community. And honestly, I’m confused. We certainly see more Hispanic people across all media, but we just don’t see enough. I’m waiting for some wonderful drama. Where is our ‘Moonlight’?” she said, referencing the 2016 indie about a young Black man that won the Oscar for Best Picture. “Why have we not gotten that far? Truly, I am mystified.”

Playing Anita in “West Side Story” was a career-making moment for Moreno, and the recognition was supposed to be a turning point, a chance to move past the heavily accented and overly sexualized Latina characters she had been offered to that point. “I thought for sure that wonderful things would happen now that I had the Oscar, which was unhappily very naive of me,” she said. “It was back to the same damn struggle. It was astonishing, and it broke my heart. I couldn’t be picky. You got offered something and you went for it because that’s all there was.”

With “One Day at a Time,” however, things are finally different. While Moreno’s character, Lydia, may be accented and at times aggressively sexual, she’s also compassionate, funny, judgmental, a caring mother and a doting grandmother. She’s also surrounded by a predominantly Latinx cast of characters and shaped by a predominantly Latinx writing staff.

“Just because I can’t have a baby anymore doesn’t mean everything went dead down there,” Moreno said with a laugh. “And that’s one of the reasons I love doing Lydia. She’s not only sexual, she’s shameless. I love that she has the tenacity and the temerity to flirt with her daughter’s boyfriends, for God’s sake.”

Moreno will also appear in Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story” later this year, overseeing a new generation of Latinx talent including Ariana Debose, who plays Anita. “She’s such a fierce dancer,” Moreno said. “Way better than I ever was — ever.”

And does she think things will be different for her young “One Day at a Time” co-stars, and for DeBose? “I like to think that I feel optimistic, but it’s just been such a hard road for me,” Moreno said. “Let me just say this: I hope so.”

Read more from the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue of TheWrap Emmy magazine here.

Emmy Magazine 2020 Drama Comedy Actors