When I watch a movie and notice that the actor or actress is Latinx, I get this moment where I feel proud to be so, because I am seeing someone that I either grew up watching, or am watching a narrative that I relate to. When I watched the movie Real Women Have Curves, directed by Patricia Cardos, at the age of fifteen that’s exactly how I felt. After watching it, I sat back and thought “Wow this movie is almost exactly like my life.” The film tells the story of a first-generation Mexican-American girl who is figuring life out with her strict parents still trying to control her. I came to America when I was three years old. I was raised by a single mother who knew very little English and spoke with a heavy Spanish accent. Growing up in America, in a predominantly white neighbourhood, I was only of only three Latinxs in the school and it was really hard for me to relate to someone who didn’t have the same features as me or someone that grew up exactly like me.
After watching Real Women Have Curves, I’ve never felt a deeper connection to a film before. In movies, the Latinx characters are almost always portrayed as non-college-educated individuals, gang-bangers, maids, housekeepers, nannies, and thickly accented characters. To name a few actors with thick accents, think Salma Hayek, Sofia Vergara, Penelope Cruz etc. And while their accents are still real, do they apply a heavier dialect in order to be cast as the ‘hot Latinx’ character? What is the right way to cast a Latinx character? There isn’t one, because we all come in different shapes, sizes, accents, how we were brought up. A group of Mexican actors could come from the same place but when they go to an audition for a role, they transform into who they are supposed to be portraying. Why is it then, that Latinxs are told they are too Latinx – firstly, what does that even mean? – when being cast for roles that are meant for such an ethnicity. Who are these directors and casting agents to tell them, that they are too ethnic or too brown?
Now I know percentages and all that talk is not for everyone (me included) but it is important to know these numbers in order to understand that Latinxs should be cast as other significant characters rather than always the “bad guy”:
Only three per cent of Latinx actors are lead or co-lead stars. Half of them were women and among them were Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez and Jessica Alba. Seventeen roles that are played by Latinx women went to Cameron Diaz, but why do you think that is? It’s because she is a blonde, white, blue-eyed Latinx so she will be more interesting to an audience of predominantly white watchers. So why are the roles for Cameron Diaz so different to Jennifer Lopez? If they are both Latinx women, why in most of Jennifer’s movies does she hold a thicker New York accent, and why is Cameron often always portrayed as a white woman? They are both beautiful in their own way and deserve to be put up for the same roles without trying to sound more “Latinx”.
A movie that was released just last year called The Tax Collector, raised eyebrows and was another example of Latinx typecasting within Hollywood. Upon the trailer’s release, many were outraged by the casting of Shia LaBeouf as what was written to be a Latino character. The film’s director, David Ayer responded to a tweet where he was asked why a Latinx was not cast for the role. He responded by saying, “Shia is playing a whiteboy who grew up in the hood. This is a Jewish dude playing a white character. He is also the only white dude in the movie.” My only question is, if the director only cast Shia LeBeouf as the “only white dude” in the movie, why couldn’t he just cast an all Latinx cast in the movie to make it seem more authentic. In this statement, I am not saying that there should be no white actors at all, but how is casting a white man, who in this role uses Latinx dialect such as, “Come on, foo!” (barrio slang for fool) okay?
America Ferrera, the main lead in Real Women Have Curves, recently spoke out about how in her first audition, she was told to sound more Latinx. She said, “I was this little, brown, chubby, valley girl, who spoke like a valley girl. I walked in, did my audition and the casting director looked at me and she was like, ‘That’s great. Can you do that again, but this time sound more Latinx?’ ‘Um, so do you want me to do this in Spanish?’ and the casting director said ‘No, no, no, do it in English, but just you know, sound more Latinx.’ ‘I am Latinx and this is what I sound like.’ ‘OK, sweetie. Thank you. Bye.’
Listening to this admission broke my heart. Just imagine that you are this young brown girl, looking up to your favourite white actresses and then going to an audition where all they want from you, is to act like the stereotypical Latinx that is always portrayed within the mainstream. It’s devastating, and it’s as if the mainstream are trying to silence our culture and heritage.
Wrapping this up, do I think Hollywood still has a long way to go? Absolutely. Do the directors behind these major films need to be able to connect with the viewers and be more inclusive? Yes. There’s a long road ahead in making sure that Latinxs feel accurately represented within the mainstream, and not criminalised as they all too often are. Screenwriters and directors should be tired of writing the same stereotypical Latinx. One who grows up in a gang, deals drugs for the cartel, is a maid and is never the character that saves the world. It’s time to cast Latinx actors in more of these hero roles. Perhaps as the next superhero or the inventor of something that changes the world and they are praised for their intellectuality. There’s something magical when a little boy or girl watches a movie and goes “Wow, they’re just like me! I want to be the next NASA engineer because of them!” When I google, Latinx directors/actors, I want to be able see a beautiful range of Latinx re-writing the Hollywood rule book and breaking down racial barriers. At the moment, we’re just not seeing that. More should be done – could be done – and hopefully will be done.
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