‘Blonde’ Backlash Over Accent: Proof Hollywood’s Accent Stigma Lingers

Diego Luna and Maria Bakalova discuss to IndieWire a couple of lingering bias within the business that has much less to do with what folks appear like than how they sound.

Last week, I used to be ready to dedicate this column to the backlash over Ana de Armas apparently retaining her Cuban accent within the trailer for “Blonde,” however the Warner Bros. Discovery determination to cancel “Batgirl” despatched me in one other route. The delay was effectively timed: The discourse over which actors get to play sure roles, particularly inside the Latino group, gained one other wrinkle when John Leguizamo lashed out on the information that James Franco had been solid as Fidel Castro.

Addressing the nuances of a delicate cultural panorama is difficult when these mini-scandals demand case-by-case evaluation. Most folks haven’t seen “Blonde” but (together with me) so who’s to guage the top consequence? And sure, Franco seems to be like Castro, however Leguizamo’s level in regards to the dearth of alternative for Latino actors stands.

No query, actors faux to be folks totally different from themselves. The pressure in these tales stem from one other reality: Actors with non-American accents stay stigmatized in Hollywood, even amongst those that discover success with them. (De Armas and Leguizamo had been unavailable for remark, however Leguizamo had loads so as to add on his Instagram, under.)

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A number of weeks again, Jamie Lee Curtis inadvertently slagged de Armas, her “Knives Out” co-star, when she stated that in her first assembly with the actress she assumed “because she had come from Cuba, that she had just arrived. I made an assumption that she was inexperienced, unsophisticated young woman.”

That bias towards accents, acutely aware or in any other case, has lingered within the business for years. “When I was very young, like 20 years ago, there was a whole conversation about losing your accent,” Mexican actor Diego Luna instructed me this week. “They used to call it ‘neutralizing,’ as if it was something you could just get rid of. It was a fear of understanding.”

Luna known as me from Mexico City after finishing a Media blitz to advertise the upcoming Disney+ sequence “Andor,” the place he reprises his function because the “Star Wars” insurgent he first performed in “Rogue One.” The fantasy context of the film and the sequence meant that he was capable of get round any sensible questions on the best way he spoke. “It wasn’t a decision to keep my accent. If they hire me, I come with this,” he stated. “But when they cast me, they’re clearly sending a message that they’re trying to represent a similar world to the one we experience, where people talk differently and have rich cultural and language diversity.”

In the years since Luna and his pal Gael Garcia Bernal broke out with “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” the pair have gotten previous the stress to change their accents for the sake of higher jobs. “I still hear about some projects that think in that very old-fashioned way,” Luna stated. “I know they are around. But it doesn’t feel like they’re the majority now. I think everyone that talks to me is sensible on this.”

Close-up on a man with dark hair and a beard; still from "Andor."


Lucasfilm Ltd.

Luna argued towards one other trope that stigmatizes accents: the tendency to have actors communicate in accented English in conditions the place the characters ought to realistically discuss of their native language. “I did many of those, but would not do them again,” he stated. “Let’s make sure when they are at home talking to their kids that they also speak that language they would be speaking there. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad about this, but let’s put it from my perspective. I want to be respectful to the story and the context of the characters.”

He famous that the resistance to utilizing foreign-language over accents has been negated by the recognition of foreign-language reveals, together with his personal “Narcos” on Netflix. “It’s much bigger in countries where they speak languages other than Spanish,” he stated. “The show was huge and people were watching it with subtitles.”

As for Leguizamo’s criticism over the Franco casting, Luna was reticent to weigh in. “It’s dangerous, because there are two parts to the conversation here,” he stated. “You should be able to explore and get yourself into whatever challenge you want to try. That’s what acting is about. But this particular case is another thing. It’s the amount of opportunities a community has to work. I don’t think where you come from should restrict you from anything in terms of what challenges you can try.”

Luna, who stars with Bernal within the upcoming Spanish-language Hulu sequence “La Máquina,” is optimistic for worldwide actors in regards to the business’s route. “We can’t generalize and say, ‘The whole industry is doing this to us,’” he stated. “The industry is full of very sensible people I meet every day trying to transform things and make things better. The debate is getting richer and much more interesting. I experience the change every day — otherwise, I would be doing theater in Mexico and not even bother.”

Of course, Luna has been at this recreation for years. He stated nobody approaches him with the belief that he may Americanize the best way he sounds. It’s change into as a lot part of his public-facing model as Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I’m not someone who can actually pretend to be a native English speaker,” Luna stated. “I wouldn’t even try.”

Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, Maria Bakalova

Maria Bakalova in “Bodies Bodies Bodies”


The problem is totally different for newcomers like Maria Bakalova. When I first met the breakout star of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” she was a brand new arrival from Bulgaria and unsure how a lot her accent would restrict her alternatives.

Now, she’s one of many Gen-Z stars of the A24 horror-comedy “Bodies Bodies Bodies” and can present up as Cosmo the Spacedog in subsequent yr’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” This week, it was introduced that Bakalova would star in Sofia Coppola’s now-filming “Fairyland” along with Netflix’s “Unfrosted” reverse Jerry Seinfeld. Bakalova’s thick Eastern European accent stays intact for these roles (in “Guardians,” she’s anticipated to sound Russian; Cosmo is an homage to Laika, the primary canine in area). However, she stated she has been taking lessons to adapt an American accent.

“I will definitely keep my accent forever because that’s my authenticity,” she stated. “I’ll try as much as possible to get this American accent that’s so dreamed about. But at the end of the day, I think it’s important to keep my accent. Huge respect to production companies pushing for this diversity.”

She was excited by the hints of Cuban in de Armas’ Marilyn Monroe from the “Blonde” trailer. “I think Ana de Armas is an incredibly talented actress and that’s what should matter,” she stated. “It sounds like she has her natural accent and it should be about the feeling you get from the performance. There are accents in the world that have been kept from us, including my personal one, for so long. Having the chance to play somebody and just do your best at it is a phenomenal achievement.”

I grew up in an immigrant family the place accents had been a part of the day-to-day expertise. If you probably did, too, you then most likely discover this dialog self evident: Accents needs to be threaded into storytelling in movie and TV, no matter whether or not they have been assigned a selected motive for being a part of a plot. Diversity is not only a query of what folks appear like.

Yet accented performers typically stay ostracized, even once they discover success. This stems from deep-seated biases, ones that many filmmakers and business gatekeepers could harbor with out realizing it, just because it’s a departure from the world they know. As hidden biases go, this one is pushing again on an enormous alternative that may even affect the underside line. Hollywood desires audiences who hope to see some model of themselves onscreen, however the reality is that they need to hear themselves, too.

If you’re a filmmaker, actor, agent, casting director, or another person with robust emotions on this topic, I’d love to listen to from you: [email protected]

Last week’s column on the “Batgirl” scenario elicited some compelling responses. I’m together with one, from an actor who appeared in a minor function within the movie however requested anonymity, under:

I felt a substantial quantity of consolation (and honest unhappiness) studying your wonderful article and the examination of this complete nightmare. The a number of streaming avenues and their imprecise ensures seem something however safe.

I’m very offended by what occurred and really feel horrible for the administrators and Leslie Grace, who had been all great to work with, in addition to all the technicians. It was an unlimited, rewarding problem to make this film throughout Covid, and throughout the chilly climate in Glasgow.

None of this stuff matter to an imbecile like [Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav]. His cowardice is breathtaking. I’m glad I received to take part and I want the very best for all these concerned — besides the fits at Warner Brothers. But all of them get changed before later.


Read earlier columns by Eric Kohn right here.

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