West Side Story


WestSide Story

The“” is a musical film set in the New York thatportrays ethnicity in the United States in 1950s and 1960s. Two rivalteenage gang groups, the Jets (Caucasians) and the Sharks (PuertoRicans) portray the theme. In addition, street violence, involvinggunfights and police intervention, is common among Americans.American teenagers are exposed to guns at young age because thecommunity has a gun culture originating from the founding fathers ofthe society. Original settlers in the United States advocatedtraining and arming everyone, including teenagers, with guns forself-defense purposes against wild animals and hostile indigenouscommunities. The themes in the movie portray the adverse effects ofethnicity in the American society (Monush, 2010).

The“” film was made at the peak of “Civil RightsMovement” that was fighting for integration and equal rights of theminority groups in the United States. The dancing portrays ethnicityin that it is a competition between two teenage gangster groups fromdifferent ethnicities. Each group is fighting to gain control of theWest Side neighborhood. During the 1950s and 1960s, various ethnicgroups such as the African Americans controlled certain zones whilethe Caucasians were restricted to given vicinities. The moviereflects this American image using the Jets and Sharks, which arerival groups separated by their different ethnic backgrounds (Monush,2010).

Boththe Sharks and Jets were organized gang groups. Riff is the Jets’commander and is seconded by Diesel. On the other hand, Bernardo wasthe commander of the Sharks. The group leaders were responsible formaking significant decisions. For instance, after they agreed thatthe “Dance at the Gym” contest was a free and fair challenge,with the participants fighting on bare fists, all members had tocomply even if some were not satisfied. Since he was a leader, themembers of his gang had to accept a weapons-free combat. The musicalsupports the American Myth stated identified by the Knapp commission.The 1972 report claimed that the widespread corruption crippled theNew York Police Department efficiency (Dierenfield, 2008). OfficerKrupke and Lt. Schrank are unable to stop the fights, and atrocitiescommitted by the teenage gangs because they do not have adequateinformers for informing them the activities happening on the ground(Monush, 2010). The Knapp commission recommended that the policeshould change attitudes when addressing insecurity matters. Inaddition, the report proposed that the force should have undercoverinformants in every precinct. The police arrived too late at thefight scene, under the highway, such that Bernardo and Riff werealready dead. If they had informers and periodic reports on dangerousgangs in the vicinity as Knapp report had proposed, they would havemanaged to prevent the deaths of Bernardo, Riff, and Tony.

Thedances, “Tonight” and “Maria” contributes to developing thetheme of overcoming racism because they portray Maria (a PuertoRican, and sister to Bernardo) and Tony (a former gang member of theJets) confessing love for each other. Tony is a reformed teenager whono longer wants to be involved in criminal activities. He has becomea responsible individual in the society, unlike his formercolleagues, such as Riff and Diesel, who are still segregated frommainstream society norms. The dance “Maria” develops the story byshowing that the ethnicity restrictions prevailing in the 1950s and1960s in the USA would soon end. Tony loves Maria and intends tomarry her as the “Tonight” dance brings a premonition of theirintended future. The first dance, “Maria” develops the seconddance as Tony and Maria confess their mutual love for each other withthe dance. The second dance then shows their dream wedding. Tony’scharacter is surely changed in the second dance because he becameneutral after falling in love with Maria. He was a member of theJets, but he could no longer support the group fully after he gotengaged to a girl from their rival group ethnicity, the Sharks. Hisneutrality can is confirmed by his desperate attempt to stop thefighting contest (&quotTonight Quintet&quot). However, Bernardokills Riff in the ensuing scuffle, forcing Tony to kill him in turn.The murders of the gang members develop the story by illustratingthat inter-ethnic relationships and the ‘Equal rights movement”pioneers will die, but the fighting groups would finally reconcileafter realizing that they are killing each other over unnecessaryissues (Monush, 2010).

The thus highlights the risk of ethnicity in Americathrough the rival ethnic-based gangs that were contesting to controlneighborhoods. The film portrays ethnicity as a major discriminationcause fanned by group mentality, but that an individual can overcome.Tony can relate well with Maria, Bernardo and other members of hisrival gang because he thinks independently from the Jets’ gangmentality. The criminal activities and inability of the local policeofficers to contain the criminal activities supports the AmericanMyth described in Kapp report.


Dierenfield,B. J. (2008). Thecivil rights movement.Harlow, England: Pearson Longman.

Monush,B. (2010). Musicon film: West Side story.Milwaukee, WI: Limelight Editions.