UPDATE: Hours after we published this article, the awards show has decided to invite the West Side Story lead to the show as a presenter. Our original article follows.
Fans of West Side Story are up in arms that one of the lead actors of the critically acclaimed musical is apparently not going to be at The Academy Awards. Actor Rachel Zegler, who portrayed Maria in Steven Spielberg’s update of the classic Broadway musical, has revealed that she has not received an invitation to the 2022 Oscar Ceremony. Moreover, it appears that despite being one of the two central characters of West Side Story (which is, you know, primarily about the relationship between those two characters), all her efforts to get an invitation have come to no result. Based on that, it appears that Zegler not receiving an invitation is not an oversight, but a deliberate decision. So what gives?
West Side Story received seven nominations for this year’s Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (for Steven Spielberg, obviously), Best Supporting Actress (Ariana DeBose, who played Anita), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, and Best Sound. Notably, neither Rachel Zegler nor Ansel Elgort (who played the male lead, Tony) received an Oscar nod, but that is sometimes how it just shakes out. The standard protocol for invitations to the Academy Awards is that nominees are automatically invited (which makes sense), and that a number of other tickets are given to studios to hand out at their discretion. Customarily, this would include the primary cast of nominated movies (particularly the films up for Best Picture). While there is no actual rule that they would need to be invited, it has raised eyebrows (especially as it’s not like there’s not extra chairs).
When Rachel Zegler first revealed her lack of an invitation (and apparent lack of ability to get one) on social media, both fellow showbiz types and fans went berserk. Here’s a few examples from Twitter:
Hey @ABCNetwork You moved the ONE Latine show you have to Hulu and @TheAcademy claims to want to embrace diversity. How about the rare time that Latine people have a movie nominated for an OSCAR you invite the lead. Latine people are 18.5% of this country. ENOUGH! pic.twitter.com/FBbi8R4QQm— Gloria Calderón Kellett (@everythingloria) March 20, 2022
rachel zegler being the *lead* in a film that has seven oscar nominations yet not being invited to the ceremony… make it make sense— bethany (@fiImgal) March 20, 2022
For those trying to understand why this is so concerning:— Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) March 20, 2022
Previous Best Picture Oscar musical nominees La La Land, Les Misérables, Chicago had leads who were all invited to the #Oscars
For Rachel Zegler, a rising Hollywood actress, to be snubbed is a disgrace. #AcademyAwards https://t.co/UWGlNk38Hy
Many had an issue that a comparatively rare movie to have Latinx leads would then snub one of said leads in such a prominent way. In particular, West Side Story made a point in the press of having cast actual Latinx people in roles that called for it (unlike the 1961 version), and using Spanish-language dialogue. That Rachel Zengler (who is of Colombian descent) would then not be able to show up to the ceremony for a film that she stars in definitely makes those efforts by the studio appear a bit more for show and public approval. Still, this is a particularly fraught time for discussions of ethnically-appropriate casting, as the 2021 film In The Heights upon its release.
Thus far, neither the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nor 20th Century Fox (which produced West Side Story with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment) have publicly commented on the decision-making process behind Rachel Zegler’s inability to get a ticket. It has been noted that the invitation status of co-star Ansel Elgort is currently unknown. In 2020, Elgort was accused of sexual assault, which was highly publicized and very carefully commented on by his co-stars. We could speculate that it is possible that the studio may be excluding both stars of West Side Story from the ceremony in order to decrease the visibility of their controversial male star. But we will have to wait for more information to come in about that.