Latinos Working in Major Films Make Significant Breakthroughs

By Luis Reyes

Michael Pena, Jake Gyllenhal
Michael Pena, Jake Gyllenhal

The surprise hit this past year year was the first White-Latino buddy cop film, End of Watch (now available on Universal Home Video) with Michael Peña and Jake Gyllenhal. Though it takes place in an East LA Barrio and dealt with drugs and gangs, it was a very realistic multi-leveled character study that was honest, gripping and touching.

Audiences responded and the film made money. Peña is also a hero figure as Navidad Ramirez in the historical crime busting Warner Bros film drama, Gangster Squad. The versatile actor may have his breakthrough role as labor leader Cesar Chavez in the upcoming Bio-pic, Chavez: The fight In The Fields directed by Diego Luna.

Jennifer Lopez starred earlier this month as Leslie Rodgers in the action drama Parker. Antonio Banderas has been signed to star in The 33, the Chilean miner’s story to be directed by Mexican Patricia Riggen.

Let’s also applaud the Latinos who have given outstanding non-stereotypical portrayals in films this past year.

Dania Ramirez
Dania Ramirez

John Ortiz a gives a nuanced performance as Ronnie in a key role in the ensemble Oscar nominated Silver Linings Playbook. He plays a character who is not necessarily Latino, married to an Anglo wife and is educated and struggling in this economy and is the lead protagonists best friend. Dania Ramirez co-starred in the bicycle action drama Premium Rush and Nadine Velasquez essayed the role of a flight attendant opposite Oscar nominee Denzel Washington in Flight Adam Rodriguez fresh from his stint on the long running CSI Miami had a featured role in Magic Mike and Eva Mendez gave a spirited performance as a single mom in Girl In Progress. Salma Hayek played comic actor Kevin James girlfriend in Here Comes the Boom. James’ role could of easily been played by comedian George Lopez who had a long running hit ABC sitcom that has not translated to big screen success as other somewhat lesser comic actors have been able to do.

Andy Garcia gave a commanding performance as an educated Mexican General, without the stereotypical trappings in For Greater Glory, a film about a recent part of Mexican history that even Mexicans did not want to be reminded of or did not know anything about. Though it was a handsome historical production lensed on location with a cast of notable international actors from both sides of the border, audiences both in Mexico and domestically did not flock to theaters, let alone worldwide.

I don’t mind if Ben Affleck plays a Latino as long as Latino actors have the same opportunity to be cast in different non-stereotypical leading roles.

Eduardo Noriega
Eduardo Noriega

But with the recent wave of violent action crime films that deal with South American drug Cartels, at least Latino actors can count on roles as Drug Cartel leaders such as in the recently released Paramount film Snitch starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with Benjamin Bratt as the head of a Drug Cartel. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, The Last Stand cast Latinos in various roles with Eduardo Noriega as a drug King Pin on the run. Luis Guzman played a small town Deputy Sheriff as did Rodrigo Santoro as a friend who comes to his aid and the film was sensitive to the Southwest locale with the mayor of the town being American-Latino as well as some of its citizenry in featured roles. Genesis Rodriguez played an FBI agent in the film and she also co-stars in the action comedy Identity Thief. Rodriguez seems to be the hot rising young and beautiful Latina star of the moment. Savages had an all-star Latino cast, Hayek, Del Toro and Bichir, but they all played the savage cartel leaders and henchmen opposite the good Anglo –American Marijuana dealers who in the end, vindicate themselves by helping the poor disadvantaged children in Asia with their drug earnings. Javier Bardem played the lead villain opposite Daniel Craig in the new James Bond film, Skyfall and Oscar winning actor Benicio Del Toro has been signed on to play drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in a comedy film.

Luis Reyes is co-author of Hispanics in Hollywood, writer and journalist who has three decades of experience working in Hollywood. He is also a Latin Heat Contributing Editor.

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Elia Esparza is a leading expert in communications and journalism targeting the burgeoning Hispanic market and has produced and written dozens of articles. President and CEO of Always Evolving PR and a Communications Specialist, Elia, incorporates her 18 years experience in the areas of entertainment and education public relations, and marketing. promotions, market research and translations (Eng/Span).