Watch: The Transformation of 'West Side Story's' Anybodys — from Tomboy to Trans

Sunday December 5, 2021
Originally published on December 2, 2021

In the original "West Side Story," there's a character called Anybodys, who was played as what was known then as a "tomboy" whose driving ambition is to be one of the Jets. But they reject him throughout. Played by Susan Oakes in the 1961 film, she clearly fits the period definition of the term — a boyish adolescent who is clearly lacking any clear sexual identity. In the Wikipedia entry for the film, the character is listed under the "Jet's Girls" section.

Not so in the new Steven Spielberg remake. In Tony Kushner's reimagining, Anybodys is transgender.

"Though never said on screen, in the film's production notes, David Saint, executor of 'West Side Story' author Arthur Laurents' estate, said that the character is indeed transgender," according to Insider. "Saint also said it was a choice Laurents would have approved, confirming that Anybodys 'is a character who was a man born in a female's body. End of story.'"

Kushner even gives him a scene where he expresses his identity prior to "Gee, Officer Krumpke" that was not in the original.

In casting the role, Spielberg chose 31-year-old, nonbinary actor Iris Menas, whose previous credits include "Jagged Little Pill" on Broadway where they were the understudy for Jo in the original cast.

In reviewing the film for the website IGN, critic Siddhant Adlakha describes the scene this way: "Some moments that risk becoming unearned or overly saccharine end up fitting perfectly with the movie's fabric. For instance, the character Anybodys — a tomboyish girl in the original, who some have read as transgender because of certain lines and interactions — is much more explicitly a transgender boy (played by nonbinary actor Iris Menas) and populates the background in ways that feel stunningly, scarily true to life. He has a brief moment of affirmation that comes not through a heavy-handed addition from a 'modern' perspective, but through the way an existing line is delivered, and the energy with which it's edited and shot."

Menas discussed the character in a video clip promoting the film. In it they expand on Anybodys' background. "We meet Anybodys when he's kind of been disowned from his family and is looking for a home essentially. He's sleeping on the streets and he's kind of been following the Jets closely," they say.

"And so, we see this kind of lost soul hoping to join this gang of brothers, not only to be accepted into a family, and seen as a unit, but be accepted for who they are as a person and accepted in their own skin."