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West Side Story’s Iris Menas On The ‘Joyful’ Collaborative Process Bringing A Transgender Anybodys To Life

Iris Menas in West Side Story.
(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

2021 has been a year chock-full of movie musicals. Even the prolific filmmaker Steven Spielberg got in on the fun, releasing his take on West Side Story in time for the Holiday Season. This new take on the beloved musical made a number of changes to the characters, including the handling of the character Anybodys. And West Side Story actor iris menas recently explained to CinemaBlend the ‘“joyful” collaboration she had bringing a transgender version of the character to life.

West Side Story’s stellar screenplay by Tony Kushner deepens a number of the movie’s supporting cast, especially Anybodys. Rather than being a tomboy who wants to join the Jets, the character played iris menas was portrayed as a trans man. I had the privilege of speaking with menas about playing that role, and what it was like working with Steven Spielberg. I was cued into the following statement:

It was absolutely a collaborative process. And in the same breath, a lot of times trans people are the only person in the room in this industry at this point in time. And are a lot of times expected to do a lot of emotional labor, a lot of educating, and honestly some consulting. But not compensated for that. And that, I’m absolutely so joyful to say, was not the case and not my experience on this production. Tony and Steven absolutely front-loaded all of that labor, did their homework on experience that they have not lived, but they had learned about. And I felt so excited and honestly relieved stepping into the room just knowing that they had taken it upon themselves to do the work. So that I could come in and add my own personal take and my experiences, and how I would have seen Anybodys at that time to the role. So I really felt like it really was a collaborative effort, but not in a draining way. It was a very joyful way to collaborate.

Well, there you have it. On top of the dream job of working with Steven Spielberg, it seems that iris menas was taken with the collaborative process of the West Side Story set. Specifically because the Anybodys actor wasn’t tasked with educating the cast and crew about trans issues.

West Side Story’s iris menas self-identigies as a trans masculine non-binary lesbian, and has therefore had a life experience that some people out there might not be familiar with. And while trans folks on sets are sometimes tasked with doing a ton of emotional labor in addition to shooting, that wasn’t menas’ experience working on the acclaimed movie musical. Instead the leadership of the movie did the work to allow for iris menas to instead focus on bringing this new Anybodys to life.

This insight shows just how much work still needs to be done in the film industry, even if transgender folks are being invited to the table. Because on top of inclusion, it’s also about making the trans community feel welcomed and able to do their actual job. Hopefully studios will be influenced by how this was achieved for Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story.

West Side Story is still in theaters now, and is expected to continue making money over the holiday weekend. Be sure to check out the 2022 movie release dates to plan your next movie experience. 

Corey Chichizola

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his famous actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.