There has been much talk in the blogosphere recently regarding the 2012 movie Argo, co-produced (with George Clooney and Grant Heslov) and directed by Ben Affleck. Affleck also cast himself as the lead character, Antonio Joseph "Tony" Méndez. He recently expressed his explanation of why he his cast himself in that role and not, say, an actor of Latino heritage, and how he does not think of it as a "whitewashing" of the role.
This post does not deal with that so much as it deals with characters in films where characters who were envisioned as Latino becomes such that a viewer watching might have no clue that the character was Latino.
What happens when a character (either historical or fictional) which was originally envisioned as Latino becomes "whitewashed"? Take a look at some of the recent examples below.
The following movies are a showcase of lost opportunities for Latino actors. Oftentimes the desire to hire a "name" actor supersedes the integrity of the role. How can Latino actors become "name" actors if they are not afforded the same opportunities as mainstream (read: Caucasian) actors? Sometimes the director/producer wants to work with a particular actor and will adjust a role to fit the actor. Each case and each movie are different, but the results are still the same. And yet, no one, not even Affleck, has given a reasonable or viable explanation for the curious alterations to the characters as originally written.
• Van Dien’s character, John “Johnny” Rico, was in the novel Juan “Johnnie” Rico, originally Filipino and who apparently goes to high school in Buenos Aires
• Apparently, futuristic Buenos Aires has become quite the cosmopolitan world city, with residents from all parts of the world (cf. Filipino Juan Rico and characters named Jenkins, Zim, Rasczak, Levy, Barcalow, Delad[r]ier, Dienes, Owen, Breckinridge, Meru, Lumbreiser); while quite possible in today’s Buenos Aires (much less a futuristic one), the dearth of Spanish surnames (mispronounced or not) or even Spanish first names is odd (some of these names are in the novel, while others were created for the movie)
While Van Dien and Richards had credits previously, this movie was considered the breakthrough role for both of them. (Neither one was remotely a "name" before this movie.)
|Left: John and Alicia Nash. Right: Russell Crowe|
and Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind (2001)
While a lot of things from the novel were omitted in the movie (presumably for time), why did Alicia Esther López-Harrison de Lardé's national origin have to be one of them? Ironically, Connelly wasn't the producer's first choice for the role; a number of (non-Latina) actresses were considered for or lobbied for the role. Imagine if a Latina actress could have played this (non-stereotypical) role and what it would have done for her career.
• Nominated for eight Academy Awards (including Best Picture), the most of any film that year
|Randy Quaid as Joe Aguirre |
in Brokeback Mountain (2005)
|Carey Mulligan as the formerly-Latina-|
but-now-Caucasian Irene in Drive (2011)
So having a Caucasian Irene would eliminate the politics of this day and age because of the different nationalities involved, but it was all right for Irene's husband to be Latino and coming out of prison and have a multiracial child with a Caucasian Irene? Because that doesn't bring up any politics of this day and age.
The next example is interesting in that it doesn't remove the ethnicity of a character inasmuch as it removes the ethnicity of a setting.
The Caller (2011)
• Written by Sergio Casci
• Movie takes place in Puerto Rico
• According to screenwriter Casci, the film was originally supposed to take place in Glasgow, Scotland and then New York City, before the production company suggested filming it in Puerto Rico
• While great pains are made to introduce why Lefevre and Moyer's characters would be living in Puerto Rico (Lefevre's character is the daughter of an Navy officer who grew up in the now-closed
|Stephen Moyer and Rachelle Lefevre|
of The Caller (2011) ask each other,
"Where are we?"
• The only clues that make one realize that the movie takes place in Puerto Rico (besides the wonderful acting talents of Luis Guzmán, Gladys Rodríguez, Alfredo De Quezada, Cordelia González and others), is a supermarket with a Spanish name, a shot of Old San Juan (specifically Calle Norzagaray and near El Morro), and a (very quick) scene of the fiesta patronal of San Juan (at what looks like a generic amusement park)
The fact that no one remotely speaks Spanish there, even in a courtroom or a university (presumably the University of Puerto Rico) scene, reduces the beautiful island of Puerto Rico to Anytown, U.S.A.– or basically, window dressing with some amazing tax breaks.
While these are just a few of the recent examples (the character of Bane of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises comes to mind, but fictional locales and comic book characters and how they translate to the screen is a whole other blog in itself), these are obviously not the only cases of "whitewashing" in Hollywood. So what does one do?
Actors, keep auditioning and acting. Writers, keep writing (and should your work become a movie, fight for the integrity of the characters). Directors, keep directing (and telling stories that represent the real world and not a sanitized, romantic, old school Hollywood view). Casting directors, keep casting (and if a character is Latino, present that role in your casting breakdowns as Latino). People with money who care about this issue, produce movies (with honesty for the story, characters and setting). Producers and film studios, take a chance (almost every "name" actor started out as a nobody until they were given the chance). Movie theatergoers, support Latino projects (by seeing the movies and showing the producers and film studios that their taking a chance was worth it).
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, people of Latino/Hispanic heritage make up 17% of the population of the United States (that is a little more than one in every six people). And Latinos/Hispanics go to the movies a lot. That is the power of the dollar. Exercise that power.
Maybe if all the above things can happen, Hollywood would not have to feel the need to erase the brown and stop "whitewashing" roles in Hollywood.