West Side Story: Characterizing the “Bad Guy” Through Color Subconscious

  • Melissa Myser n/a
Keywords: Color, Color Subconscious, West Side Story, Good and Bad


In both the original Broadway (1957) and Hollywood (1961) versions of West Side Story, costume designer Irene Sharaff utilized a practical, historical and cultural approach to costumes of rival gangs the Jets and Sharks. The Anglo Jets are depicted in colors of blue, yellow, and khaki while the Puerto Rican Sharks are shown in red, black, grey, and purple. Though in opposition to one another on the color wheel, a more complicated visual association of “good” and “bad” is created by this color split. Creating a visual binary along the lines of light colors and dark colors the color split furthers’ the semiotic connotations of good and bad. Although the film focuses on society’s clash along racial lines, the narrative itself appears to avoid establishing which gang is “right” and instead pointing to every persons’ festering hate. Yet, West Side Story’s (Jerome Robbin and Robert Wise, 1961) mise-en-scene works in contradiction to the core message of the film by reinforcing white “goodness” and the Puerto Rican Sharks as “bad” advancing prejudice tendencies.