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AMERICAN MASTERS: Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It

Rita Moreno

Friday, March 3, 2023 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2 / On demand now with KPBS Passport!

Over a career spanning more than 70 years, Rita Moreno defied both her humble upbringing and relentless racism to become a celebrated and award-winning actor. AMERICAN MASTERS “Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It” explores the star’s rich, decades-long career using vérité footage of Moreno today, archival footage of her roles and appearances, reenactments of her childhood, animation and interviews with Moreno, those close to her and performers she influenced.

Film interviewees include Gloria Estefan, Morgan Freeman, Mitzi Gaynor, Whoopi Goldberg, Eva Longoria, Justina Machado, Terrence McNally, Karen Olivo, as well as Norman Lear and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who are also executive producers on the project.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It: Preview

Born into poverty on a Puerto Rican farm, Moreno and her seamstress mother immigrated to New York City when Moreno was five years old. After studying dance and performing on Broadway, Moreno was cast as any ethnic minority the Hollywood studios needed filled: Polynesian, Native American, Egyptian and more. Despite becoming the first Latina actress to win an Academy Award for her role as Anita in “West Side Story” (1961), the studios continued to offer Moreno lesser roles as stereotypical ethnic minorities, ignoring her proven talent.

Rita in West Side Story rehearsal
Courtesy of MGM Media Licensing
Still frame of Rita in "West Side Story" rehearsals. (undated photo)

Beyond the racism she experienced as a Latina actor, AMERICAN MASTERS “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided To Go For It” explores the lesser-known struggles Moreno faced on her path to stardom, including pernicious Hollywood sexism and sexual abuse, a toxic relationship with Marlon Brando and an attempted suicide a year before she won her Oscar.

Rita Moreno on facing sexism in the industry

The documentary also revisits her notable roles, including THE ELECTRIC COMPANY (PBS), the Broadway and feature film version of “The Ritz,” Oz and, most recently, “One Day at a Time.”

Rita Moreno's mother inspired her "One Day at a Time" role

The documentary demonstrates Moreno’s talent and resilience as she broke barriers, paved the way for new generations of artists by refusing to be pigeonholed and fought for Latinx representation in a variety of genres.

How Rita Moreno became a social activist

“As a filmmaker, woman and Puerto Rican, I am proud to have the opportunity to tell Rita’s story,” said director Mariem Pérez Riera. “Her many victories in the face of prejudice are an inspiration to me. Hopefully, this film will give strength to the women all over the world, who today, face a similar fight towards equality.”

The film world premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2021 and had a successful theatrical run.

Rita Moreno gives one of the shortest Oscars speeches ever

Watch On Your Schedule:

The film is now available on demand with KPBS Passport, a benefit for members supporting KPBS at $60 or more yearly, using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn more and activate your benefit now.

Rita Moreno in t-shirt with
Courtesy of THIRTEEN
Rita Moreno getting ready for an award ceremony. Her t-shirt reads "Just a girl who decided to go for it." (undated photo)


A production of American Masters Pictures and Act III in association with Maramara Films and Artemis Rising Foundation. Michael Kantor, Regina K. Scully, Norman Lear, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Lyn Davis Lear are executive producers. Brent Miller is producer. Mariem Pérez Riera is producer and director. Ilia Vélez Dávila is co-producer. Michael Kantor is executive producer of AMERICAN MASTERS.