Upon its release in 1961, the original West Side Story film was almost instantly heralded as a classic. But the story about young lovers from rival gangs also famously featured white actors in brownface portraying Puerto Rican characters. While director Steven Spielberg’s long-delayed remake has a Latinx-led cast, the 2021 adaptation of West Side Story has not escaped a casting controversy of its own. Existing allegations against actor Ansel Elgort have resurfaced ahead of the release of West Side Story on December 10. Elgort, who stars as Tony, was accused in 2020 of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old in 2014. He denied the allegation on social media and instead described their relationship as “entirely consensual.”
At the time of the alleged assault, Elgort was 20 and having an eventful year; in 2014, he starred in the blockbusters The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent, and reportedly broke up with his high-school sweetheart, Violetta Komyshan, for a brief period. Now 27, Elgort is on the brink of his biggest role yet. Spielberg’s retelling, led by 20-year-old rising star Rachel Zegler in her first movie role ever, is getting major award buzz and early accolades — all with little mention of the past allegations against Elgort. Here’s everything we know about the allegations, his response, and where all of this falls on the West Side Story timeline.
What was Elgort accused of, and when?
On June 19, 2020, a Twitter user accused Elgort of sexually assaulting her in 2014 when she was 17 and he was 20. “I didn’t think he’d ever see my dm I was just a kid and was a fan of him,” she wrote in a since-deleted statement. She said she was “sobbing in pain” and did not want to have sex. Allegedly, Elgort had known it was her first time having sex.
The user further alleged that Elgort told her she would be “a beautiful young lady” once she was older, and said he asked her for nudes and proposed a threesome with a friend of hers who was allegedly also underage. She added that she now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks and is in therapy. “Finally I’m ready to talk about it and finally heal,” she said in 2020, adding that she wanted other girls who had gone through the same experience with Elgort to know they were not alone.
Along with her written statement, she shared a photo of herself with Elgort and a screenshot of DMs from 2014 that allegedly shows Elgort giving her his personal Snapchat username, itsansolo. (Ansolo is Elgort’s DJ moniker.)
She later deleted the tweets along with her Twitter account, but screenshots of her posts continued to gain traction and support online. On the same day, June 19, two other women tweeted screenshots that appeared to link Elgort to the same private username, itsansolo. User @Caelyn_Brooke wrote that Elgort told her to Snapchat him when she was 15, and that she “didn’t think anything of it until now.”
In a since-deleted tweet, another user shared screenshots of Elgort allegedly messaging her from his private Snapchat account to tell her he had never hooked up with a fan before. She claimed that Elgort had known that the age of consent in Georgia was 16, which was how old she was when she went on two dates with him. She added that she felt lucky that she met him in public and not alone. “At the age of 16, I was not aware how predatory and creepy this behavior was. Now as a woman in her 20s, I see this for what it is,” she said in a since-deleted thread about the actor’s alleged behavior.
Also on June 19, another user shared allegations in a now-deleted tweet that Elgort sent her dick pics on Twitter when she was an eighth-grader in 2014. Describing his actions as “predatory,” she claimed that their interactions had become sexual soon after he followed her fan account. “I was 14, I had NO idea what was going on, and I was terrified,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, an allegation initially posted on April 1, 2020 — months before the sexual-assault accusation went viral — also began recirculating as people translated the originally French tweet into English. The tweet was directed at Elgort because user @steeeeerr said she knew he still followed her. In it, she asked if he remembered sending her messages when she was 15 and he was 21. The attached screenshots allegedly showed Elgort telling her over Snapchat that he wanted her to come to his hotel room the next time he was in London, and that he could get in trouble if she told people he wanted to kiss her. She also posted a screenshot allegedly of Elgort asking if she wanted to send him “something sexy.”
How did Elgort respond to the allegations?
One day after the stories and allegations surfaced in June, Elgort posted a since-deleted statement on Instagram. In it, he said he was “distressed” by the social-media posts about him. In his denial, Elgort addressed his first accuser directly, claiming that “her description of events is simply not what happened. I have never and would never assault anyone.” He said that they had a “brief, legal, and entirely consensual relationship” in New York. (The age of consent in New York is 17.)
Elgort added that he did want to apologize for how he handled the breakup. According to Elgort, he ghosted her and completely stopped responding to her. “As I look back at my attitude, I am disgusted and deeply ashamed of the way I acted,” he said. He did not specifically reference the other women who made claims about him on Twitter. Elgort would later clear his Instagram feed of all posts, including his June 20 response. The actor, once known for frequent social-media posts, would remain inactive for over a year.
How much of West Side Story was done when the allegations were made?
When the accusations were leveled against Elgort, it had already been about eight months since West Side Story wrapped. Here’s a timeline of the film’s production process, up until the last day of filming:
March 2014: Deadline reports that Steven Spielberg has expressed interest in remaking a West Side Story movie, prompting Fox to unlock the remake rights to the film (which itself was inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet).
June 2016: Spielberg’s frequent collaborator, playwright Tony Kushner, is said to be working on a script for the remake.
January 2018: An extensive, worldwide casting search for the main roles of Tony, María, Anita, and Bernardo begins. Open casting notices confirm that Spielberg will direct the movie.
The director later discussed the casting decision with BBC Music Magazine. “Sometimes on camera [Elgort] looks even younger than he is, then in the next second he looks like Marlon Brando,” Spielberg said. “He has great power, and also vulnerability. He is boy and man and so facile at how often these qualities are interchangeable.”
November 2018: Rita Moreno, who gave an Oscar-winning performance as Anita in the 1961 film, is cast as Doc. The new character was created specifically for her.
January 2019: 17-year-old Rachel Zegler is cast as María, the female lead.
April 2019: 25-year-old Elgort surprises Zegler and comes to see her perform in her high-school production of Shrek: The Musical, per W Magazine.
June 2019: West Side Story releases a first-look image of the cast. It is set to release in theaters on December 18, 2020.
July 2019: Gothamist reports that the remake is shooting around New York under the code name San Juan Hill (a reference to the nickname for the neighborhood where West Side Story is set). Filming continues in New Jersey for the next two months.
September 2019: On September 27, 18-year-old Zegler tweets praise for Elgort’s growth and “literal magic” onscreen and off. “Falling in love with him was easy,” she writes. “Happy wrap mi amor; catch ya on a fire escape sometime soon.” Zegler later deletes the tweet after some people interpret her statement as proof that she is a “homewrecker” in Elgort’s relationship with his girlfriend Komyshan.
Ten minutes after midnight on September 28, West Side Story officially wraps production. In a letter shared by 20th Century Studios on Twitter, Spielberg praises his “brilliantly talented, fiercely committed, generous, and apparently inexhaustible cast and crew of hundreds.” The tweet also included a photo of Spielberg in a group hug with the four leads.
Did West Side Story respond to the allegations against its lead?
No. Other than Elgort’s now-deleted statement, neither Spielberg nor Elgort’s co-stars have commented on the troubling allegations.
What’s happened with West Side Story since then?
The film’s release was delayed one year due to the pandemic. Here’s a timeline of events tied to Elgort and West Side Story that occurred after the June 2020 allegations:
September 2020: Disney announces delays to several films due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes West Side Story, which is pushed to a December 10, 2021 release.
April 2021: A teaser trailer for West Side Story premieres during the Oscars. It barely features Elgort.
September 2021: The official trailer for West Side Story drops on September 15. Elgort is featured more prominently and shares the video on Instagram. Since he has removed other posts from his profile, this is currently the first post on his feed since January 2018.
November 2021: West Side Story has its world premiere in New York City on November 29. People reports that he attends the event with his girlfriend Komyshan. After the event, he posts an Instagram photo of himself with Zegler, Spielberg, Rita Moreno, Ariana DeBose, and David Alvarez. They are all holding hands. “I couldn’t be more proud to be standing alongside these extraordinary people,” he captions the picture. Zegler did not post any photos with Elgort from the night.
As Elgort’s red-carpet interviews from the premiere begin to circulate online, the allegations against Elgort from June 2020 resurface on Twitter. People express anger and disappointment that he is seemingly back to regularly scheduled programming, attending red carpets and doing press.
December 2021: Elgort appears in some press interviews, mostly on his own or grouped together with co-stars Mike Faist and David Alvarez. He appears on The Drew Barrymore Show on December 6, revisiting the theater where he performed West Side Story as a 12-year-old. On December 7, he walked the red carpet at West Side Story’s Los Angeles premiere.
What are critics saying about West Side Story?
While some have singled out Elgort’s performance as not up to par with the rest of the cast, initial reviews for Spielberg’s remake have mostly been extremely positive. Zegler received high praise for her film debut, and the film is already being tossed around as an Oscar contender for Best Picture. Yet with the movie set to open to the general public this week, it remains to be seen how big a part the past allegations against Elgort will play in conversations around the film.