If you saw the FX series about the shocking murder of fashion icon, Gianni Versace, you probably didn’t notice something that I doubt has ever occurred before in film or television. The cast of the acclaimed series (it earned 86% positive ratings according to Rotten Tomatoes), starred three Hispanic actors who all played Italian characters based on actual people. This was sort of a Bizarro World scenario for those of us who notice that sort of thing. Season two of American Crime Story starred Venezuelan born Édgar Ramírez Arellano, as Gianni Versace, Puerto-Rican singer, Ricky Martin, as Antonio D’Amico, Versace’s longtime partner, and the acclaimed Spanish Actress, Penélope Cruz, who played Versace’s sister, Donatella Versace. Latinos in Hollywood frequently complain about how infrequently they are cast in major film roles. However, when non-Hispanic actors are cast in films where they play Latino characters; it feels like a double slap in the face. Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Jennifer Connelly have all played Latino characters in big time films over the years. All three of them are outstanding talents, and some of my favorites, but Benicio del Toro, Gael García Bernal, Oscar Issac and Zoe Saldana are pretty good, too. Maybe the Versace series was a fluke or perhaps things are starting to change – it’s not yet clear. There are some signs that things are starting to change for both actors and filmmakers. Guillermo del Toro was the third Latino in four years to win the Academy Award for Best Director, and Mexican-American Director, Robert Rodriguez is in postproduction on the $200 million, James Cameron produced film, Alita: Battle Angel which is due for release in late 2018.
Why is it important we see more Latinos succeeding in film and television? Well, of course, Latinos deserve the same opportunity as everyone else to succeed in the field of their choice, but even more important is what it means for the Latino brand. There is a reason why some people think Latinos are all maids, drug dealers and criminals. It has a lot to do with how we are portrayed in the media. Ben Affleck played CIA officer Tony Mendez in the Academy Award winning film, Argo, the story about how Mendez and the CIA were able to help six Americans working in the U.S. Embassy escape the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. The movie was a huge hit – and a missed opportunity for American filmgoers to learn that the actual hero in the amazing true story was a Latino from Colorado. In my view, despite the fact that Latinos account for about 30% of all ticket sales to the movies, major roles for Latino actors will only trickle in occasionally. The tipping point will come when we see Latinos in the C-suites and board rooms of major studios and media conglomerates like Disney, Fox, Comcast, CBS and Time-Warner. Lets hope we see that soon!