Opinion: “West Side Story” is bigger than Ansel Elgort

Something’s coming. Something controversial.

Being a musical theatre fan, I was excited in 2018 when it was announced by Broadway.com Ansel Elgort, the heartthrob best known for the 2014 film “The Fault in Our Stars,” was cast as Tony in director Steven Spielberg’s’s “West Side Story” remake. Elgort has a singing and dancing background, both which are key to playing the iconic role.

However, in 2020, a woman took to Twitter to expose Elgort for allegedly sexually assaulting her when she was 17 and he was 20. Elgort has since denied this and then deleted all of his social media accounts. He has only returned to the limelight now with “West Side Story” media attention mounting due to the film’s upcoming release in December.

Like many musical theatre fans and fans of the original movie, I have been waiting a very long time for Spielberg’s version, since it got pushed back a year due to the pandemic. When the movie was in production, no one knew of the allegations against Elgort. Now, my friends and I do not know how to approach this movie since we feel that by seeing it, we are in turn supporting him.

Many people are disappointed with Steven Spielberg and his production company Amblin Entertainment for not completely cutting Elgort from the film and recasting. In fairness, it’s unknown if Spielberg had sole decision making power here. Supporters of this idea bring up the example of the 2017 film “All the Money in the World” which was to have starred Kevin Spacey. Once the numerous sexual assault allegations against Spacey were brought to light, director Ridley Scott and the film’s financiers Imperative Entertainment decided to completely remove Spacey from the film and postpone its release. They then spent an additional $10 million to reshoot any scene with Spacey in it, replacing him with Christopher Plummer.

Spielberg not taking this route is specifically disappointing because, due to the pandemic, he had a surplus of time for reshoots. Hollywood also has a large number of young, white men who could’ve easily have played Tony (Tom Holland, Timothee Chalamet, Harry Styles, and Dylan O’Brien to name a few). Elgort was most likely tied down to a contact with Spielberg. But if Kevin Spacey was also likely under a contract, the question is then: why couldn’t Elgort be recast also? Spielberg and Amblin must know of the accusations against Elgort, since in all of the trailers for “West Side Story” the leading man is barely shown.

Putting aside all this controversy, I think we should all still go and support “West Side Story” since there are more incredibly talented, good people, especially people of color, in the film than there are incredibly talented bad people. Rachel Zegler will be making her film debut as Maria, after Steven Spielberg pulled her from obscurity during her senior year of high school. It is people like Zegler we should see this movie for, as it is a visual example of dreams coming true.

I believe Elgort will be a phenomenal Tony. What is important is that we can appreciate his work without appreciating him. We need to separate the art from the artist.

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Twitter: @EllenFrantzTWW