A Slocan Valley woman worked on the Spanish-language versions of the recent remake of West Side Story.
Yasmin Rodriguez, who is originally from Puerto Rico and now lives in Hills, was a language and accent consultant on both the dubbed and subtitled versions of the film.
Rodriguez has worked in media since 1989 when she began TV scriptwriting. Still, she says, she was surprised to receive a call from Disney Latin America asking for her help working to ensure the authenticity of characters of Puerto Rican background.
“Especially since it came through my contacts in Puerto Rico,” she says. “I’ve been in Canada for the last three years. It was totally unexpected.”
She and another woman helped with the Spanish subtitles, as well as the script used for the dubbed version, and the actual recordings by the actors.
“Our job was making sure all the language that came from Puerto Rican characters was true to the culture and idiosyncrasies and background of Puerto Ricans in the Bronx in the 1950s and ’60s,” Rodriguez says.
“It was very intense because Puerto Ricans have a history of trying to hide their accent. Since we’re a colony, your identity as a nation suffers.”
Rodriguez says actors in Puerto Rico are trained to speak with “neutral” Spanish.
“That’s so you don’t sound Puerto Rican. We had to erase that. We had to convince them that it was okay to talk the way we’re supposed to talk and our accent is not wrong. We had to go into in-depth history lessons of why Puerto Ricans talks the way we talk. It was an amazing thing. It was very, very rewarding.”
Rodriguez says she is glad the production companies put the extra effort to stay true to Puerto Rican culture. She says she has always been bothered that the original play and movie did not present an accurate portrayal of Puerto Ricans. Nor did the music and dance.
However, “knowing at least the written and spoken word is true to our culture and history is a big step in the right direction … I’m hoping this is going to start breaking some of those stereotypes.”
While Rodriguez says she has seen a shift in the movie and TV industry over the last 20 years, she feels this is the first time “so much care and consideration has been taken to be respectful of the Puerto Rican characters.”
Other such works, she says, are few and far between. While there are English-language works on TV or film that use real Puerto Rican accents, they are often not translated into Spanish.
Rodriguez hopes that will start to change.
“After doing it with West Side Story, people would be hard pressed to go back to trying to say that a Mexican sounding character is from Puerto Rico,” she says.
She encourages everyone to see the movie, even in English.
“It does show how we lived back in the ’50s in New York … Even the English version is a lot truer to our culture than the original Broadway show.”
You can hear the whole interview with Rodriguez here: