Click on the play button to listen to the audio version.
A few weeks ago, Twitter was blowing up when John Leguizamo spoke out against the recent casting of James Franco as Fidel Castro in the independent film ‘Alina of Cuba’. Leguizamo took plenty of heat for his stance and was ridiculed by some including Bill Maher. The criticism came from decriers of political correctness saying the movement has gone too far. Maher claimed that “actors are supposed to act” and should not be limited to roles where the character is of the same ethnicity, religion, or gender as the actor.
I don’t think Leguizamo’s message framed the issue correctly. The problem is not that white actors should only play white characters, but rather the fact Latinos are already incredibly underrepresented in Hollywood, and when the rare lead role starring a Latino character is cast to a non-Latino actor, the feeling of unfairness is exacerbated, and I understand Leguizamo’s frustration. The fact is Latinos are 19% of the U.S. population but get less than 3% of the lead roles in major film or television projects – and Latinos are currently the only ethnic group significantly underrepresented in Hollywood. There is a bigger issue at hand, and that is without power in the media, Latinos will continue to struggle to control our own narrative.
So, what is it going to take to get this fixed? There is a notion that Latinos don’t support Latino projects like other communities support their own. I don’t give this much credence. The data shows that film/TV projects featuring Latino characters do index higher with Latino audiences, but like everyone else, Latinos want quality content. In other words, a great film or TV show is going to find an audience – and one with Latino characters will be even more popular with Latino audiences, but it all starts with a great film. I recently watched the Netflix series Narcos for the first time, and while I think shows like this perpetuate negative stereotypes about Latinos, the series was outstanding. The story was compelling, the writing was brilliant, and the acting was as better than anything I have ever seen in my life. Anyone who thinks there aren’t great Latino actors should watch the Narcos series and see for themselves how ridiculous that statement is. Latinos won’t watch a crappy movie just because it has Latino characters, but if the content is good, they will break the bank (see the Fast and the Furious series).
It always comes down to the money, and getting more capital to Latino producers and creatives is also necessary for Latinos to control our narrative and get fair representation in Hollywood. I have learned a lot about venture capital in the past year. Latino representation in VC is even worse than it is in film and television. There is no good reason for it. But the VC community is a boy’s club if I have ever seen one, and it is nearly impossible to break into unless you know someone in the business. Capital is the lifeblood of any company and getting capital to Latino producers is the single biggest hurdle towards resolving the issue of Latinos in the media. Avenida Studios is an interesting company. Led by Fanny and Nelson Grande, Avenida is a movie studio and has built an interesting platform where creatives can use crowdfunding to get their projects funded. It might be a baby step forward, but Avenida is addressing the right issue at the right time.