Opinion: James Franco controversy spotlights Hollywood’s perpetual blind spot

“How is Hollywood excluding us but stealing our narratives as well?” lamented Leguizamo on an Instagram put up final Friday. “I don’t got a (problem) with Franco but he ain’t Latino!” he added. Fernández advised Deadline she helps the casting, and lead inventive producer John Martinez O’Felan advised the publication that “finding and convincing James Franco to play Castro” was “a fun and challenging process,” citing efforts to “comb through the entire ranks of actors with Latin roots in Hollywood” and noting Franco’s “close physical resemblance” to the Cuban chief.
Leguizamo is drawing consideration to 2 distinct however associated issues round Hollywood’s illustration of Latinos in movie and tv. First, there’s a lengthy historical past, going again to the early twentieth century greaser movies that continued with the road gang stereotypes of the 50s, of Anglo-American producers, administrators, screenwriters and actors, controlling narratives about Latinx within the US and Latin Americans overseas.

The second drawback is what many have known as “brownface,” or the follow of utilizing White American actors to painting US-born Latinx and Latin Americans. Some of the numerous examples had been Natalie Wood as María within the unique manufacturing of “West Side Story,” Charlton Heston as Detective Vargas in “Touch of Evil” and Al Pacino as Tony Montana in “Scarface.”

Leguizamo even refers to rising up in an period when “Latin people couldn’t play Latin people on film.” Yet the circumstances round “Alina of Cuba” are considerably totally different as we speak. Most of the forged, together with Mia Maestro and Ana Villafañe, who play Alina’s mom and Alina herself, respectively is of Latin American descent. The two screenwriters, Pulitzer Prize-winning Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz, and Puerto Rican screenwriter José Rivera (“The Motorcycle Diaries,” “On the Road”) are US Latinos, and the director, Miguel Bardem, who’s Javier Bardem’s cousin, is from Spain.

The principal bone of competition right here is Franco’s casting within the lead function, a transfer clearly designed for field workplace potential, which is usually a rationale that has stymied the event of Latino Hollywood stars, and that has a unfavourable influence on the event of Latino-focused motion pictures and televisions collection. When Leguizamo claims Franco is “not Latino,” he implies that, though Franco has partial Portuguese roots, many advocates argue that Portuguese and Spaniards aren’t appropriate to play “Latino” roles, which is the rationale some objected to the Spaniard Javier Bardem being forged because the Cuban Desi Arnaz in final yr’s Academy Award nominated “Being the Ricardos”.
Leguizamo additionally factors out that Latinx are additionally not typically forged in “White” roles, though Cuban-born Ana de Armas’s upcoming flip as Marilyn Monroe in Neflix’s upcoming biopic, “Blonde,” is an exception. Yet there is a restrict to how lighter-skinned Latinos might be “seen” as White, since there has already been social Media pushback about Armas’ perceived Cuban-Spanish accent.
Fidel Castro's daughter endorses James Franco playing her father
Still, the shortage of Latino illustration in movies stays a big drawback. A 2021 examine by the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative discovered that from 2007-2019, the proportion of Latino characters was stagnant at 5%, and the proportion of Latino characters in lead roles for a similar interval was 3.5%, with solely 6 complete lead/co-lead roles held by Afro-Latino actors. A University of California, Los Angeles report printed final yr asserted that regardless of making up 18.9% of the inhabitants, Latinx actors made up solely 6.3% of roles on tv exhibits in 2019 and 2020.
Last week there was an uproar over the canceling of the film “Batgirl,” which starred Dominican actress Leslie Grace (“In the Heights”) within the lead function. Even director Kevin Smith, not effectively referred to as a Latino illustration activist, thought it was an “incredible bad look” for Warner Bros. studios. (CNN is part of Warner Bros. Discovery.) Variety reported the transfer was the results of a brand new company technique to prioritize theatrical options (the movie was going to be launched on HBO Max). Variety additionally reported {that a} tax write off was one more reason for the studios to drop the $90 million movie. Mediocre scores on check screenings had been additionally blamed, however these do not at all times point out the eventual success of a movie. (A spokesperson for Warner Bros. stated, “The decision to not release ‘Batgirl’ reflects our leadership’s strategic shift as it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max.)
In March, Latino advocacy group Unidos US expressed outrage that the pending merger of Warner Bros and Discovery, which was completed earlier this year, would not include any Latinx members of the merged company’s Board of Directors. After the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Urban League met with Discovery leaders, the newly formed company expressed that it is committed to diversity, naming Asif Sadiq as the company’s chief global diversity, equity and inclusion officer.
This week, pop-reggaetón Puerto Rican superstar Bad Bunny (Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio), who topped Bloomberg’s Pop Star Power Rankings last month, made his Hollywood debut in the Brad Pitt vehicle film “Bullet Train,” though his appearance is very brief, with almost no speaking lines. However, he is slated to star as “El Muerto,” a Marvel universe movie based on a Mexican wrestler character featured in the Spider-Man story. Bad Bunny will become the first Latinx actor to headline a Marvel movie. And just recently it was revealed that Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta will play the role of Namor in the upcoming “Black Panther” sequel, “Wakanda Forever.”
Still, despite being someone who grew up reading Marvel comics, the incessant parade of superhero movies becomes fairly mind-numbing and has diminishing returns, with diverse representation or not. Bloated big box office projects have effectively erased the world of independent film making that, back in the 1990s, represented a moment of hope that a Latinx film space could be created. Films like “Raising Victor Vargas,” “I Like It Like That,” and “Mi Familia” created vibrant portraits of urban Latinos that were not swallowed up by endless explosions and choreographed fight scenes.
These were films that harkened back to the work of Spike Lee, who did so much to create marketable African American stars like Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes and Halle Berry. For some reason that never happened with Latinos—with the exception of Rosie Pérez, Lee’s muse in “Do the Right Thing”–despite the brief success of directors like Gregory Nava, León Ichaso, and Joseph Vasquez, whose film “Hanging With the Homeboys'” starred a young John Leguizamo.

While it’s not counterproductive to see Latinx in big-budget roles, the key to sustaining visibility still lies in seizing the story-telling machinery and establishing narratives and star performances that can’t be erased by Hollywood’s bottom line.

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