Ava DuVernay, Aretha Franklin, and “West Side Story,” oh my!

West Side Story, Ava DuVernay, Jennifer Hudson

(West Side Story casting call poster, Ava DuVernay, and Jennifer Hudson at the 83rd Academy Awards in 2011 (photo credit: David Torcivia))

Three big pieces of news to share!

1. West Side Story reboot casting call: Out of the blue, it’s been announced that Steven Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner are working on a reboot of West Side Story. The casting call was released on Twitter via Kushner’s husband, writer and Vulture journalist Mark Harris

For right now, the casting call is specifically for the four leads, Tony, Maria, her sister Anita, and her boyfriend (and gang leader) Bernardo. The casting call is also specific in terms of race—the actors for Maria, Anita and Bernardo have to be Latinx in order to apply. Tony, of course, is the white member of the rival gang. Also important is that all applicants have to be able to sing and dance. I’m glad it seems Spielberg has learned from the errors of his fellow directors who keep trying to make actors who can’t sing or dance do those two things. Beauty and the Beast suffered because of it, La La Land is a chore for the ears because of the amount of auto-tuning, and Into the Woods was a film with mixed results due to the actors’ various degrees of singing ability. Sweeney Todd was a total bust, despite it’s gorgeous artistic treatment by Tim Burton. Hollywood needs to get back to hiring triple threats who can do all of the things they ask for, not lazily employ someone just because they’re name’s hot right now.

As you recall, the original West Side Story starring Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, was all over the map when it came to racially-correct casting, and brownface was employed to make some of the actors, like Chakiris, look Latino. Thankfully, it seems like that won’t be the case here (unless some Aladdin-esque shenanigans happen with the extras, but we haven’t gotten that far along in the film’s process to be pre-emptively worried).

2. Disney and Nissan are looking for the next big director: Ava DuVernay is leading the charge with Disney and Nissan to find the next visionary director with their A Wrinkle in Time Contest.

According to the press release (via Women and Hollywood), the contest “seeks to inspire innovative directors—especially female filmmakers—to step up and share their voice.” Applicants must be age 18 or older and “submit a two-minute video showcasing their journey as a filmmaker.” Entries will be judged on “their unique storytelling voice, their creativity and originality, and their depiction of one of the most powerful lines of dialogue in the film, ‘Be a Warrior.’”

DuVernay herself talked about the hard road of filmmaking when you’re just starting out. “It’s never easy. It’s rarely smooth,” she said in the video below. “But with faith in the journey and fortitude of your own intention, artists just like you have achieved their dreams.”

3. Jennifer Hudson to play Aretha Franklin: The Oscars should just go ahead and send Hudson her Oscar, because you already know she’s going to get one (or at least be nominated) for portraying the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

It’s been confirmed by Entertainment Weekly that Hudson has been tapped to play Franklin for MGM. Franklin personally picked Hudson to portray her, which is the highest level of approval you can get. Another vote of confidence is in the film’s producing team, both of whom know their way around popular musicals. Straight Outta Compton’s Scott Bernstein and Sing and Pitch Perfect’s Harvey Mason will guide the film and protect the integrity of the audience’s musical journey. The film itself is reported based on Franklin’s memoir, Aretha: From These Roots.

I’m already going to confirm my seat in the theater for this film; when my sister and I saw Dreamgirls in the theater, the audience erupted in applause in the middle of the film after Hudson sang, “And I’m Telling You (I’m Not Going).” I loved it, and I expect the same thing to happen in this film, probably multiple times.

What do you think about this news? Talk about it in the comments section below!

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