By Luis Reyes
This summer’s slate of blockbuster films are noticeably absent of Latino faces in leading roles though there are a few Latinos evident in supporting roles. Tony Plana plays Miami Police Captain Lopez in Pain and Gain opposite Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson. Michelle Rodriguez returns as the pivotal character of Letty in The Fast and The Furious 6. Edward James Olmos has a strong supporting role as Papi Greco in the forthcoming buddy action film 2 Guns starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. Salma Hayek reprises her role as Adam Sandler’s wife from the hit comedy Grown Ups in its sequel Grown Ups 2. Guillermo Del Toro is the only Latino director represented with the Sci Fi adventure Pacific Rim.
For some reason, the major Hollywood studios for the most part fail to integrate the American Latino into their films either in solo starring vehicles or as part of an ensemble. The only exceptions seems to be the multi-ethnic cast of the Fast and The Furious 6 franchise and the Star Trek: Into Darkness franchise that includes the starring participation of Zoe Saldana.
With all the media attention and data about the US Latino market and the significant Latino influence on politics in the last U.S. Presidential election, it cannot be ignorance on the part of the filmmakers for this lack of inclusion… so is it racism or exclusion?
Where are the Latino production executives with decision-making authority at the studios? Or is it that we have failed to develop bankable stars? We have recognizable and talented performers but only Jennifer Lopez can really be called a bankable star and even her box-office record has been spotty. In fact, the numbers of stars that are capable of opening a major blockbuster film are few, no matter what the ethnicity. If Latinos do not have access to leading roles then how can they become stars? American Latino performers should be cast in leading roles in which they can bring their talent, charisma and screen chemistry to a film story in which the audience can identify. Jennifer Lopez before Selena or Lou Diamond Phillips before La Bamba,were unknowns.Though not a star at the level of Lopez, veteran tough guy character actor Danny Trejo pulled in significant box-office and connected with audiences in his starring role in the action flick Machete and is due out with its sequel Machete Kills – but this is in large part because of Latino helmer Robert Rodriguez – a filmmaker who set out to create movies with universal storylines and then casting Latinos in significant starring and co-starring roles.
It seems like some non-Latino actors go from film to film and the screens are proliferated with all kinds of subject matter, but American Latinos are not seen – is this blatant omission really about business, the bottom-line as most studio and network executives claim? When you do see Latinos in the few leading roles they are limited characterizations’, Demian Bichir’s Oscar nominated undocumented father in A Better Life and Hayek, Del Toro and Bichir as Cartel leaders in Savages. Even the liberal and progressive Robert Redford in his recent film, The Company He Keeps, has a Latina maid take care of his children on screen but there were no evident Latino FBI agents, university professors or lawyers depicted. If Ben Affleck chooses to take on a role that calls for a Latino in Argo, which is fine except that American Latinos are not afforded equal access. Since Argo was a major Oscar winning hit, if the right Latino actor had played the role it would have meant a tremendous career boost. The breakout hit with unknown actors Bridesmaids could have easily been about an American Latino family as was the recent all-star The Big Wedding. One of The Stand Up Guys in the recent film with Al Pacino and Christopher Walken could have been Hector Elizondo. In G.I. Joe Retaliation, why wasn’t there a leading Latino G. I. Joe? The answer: Few Latino writers are getting through the Hollywood hiring maze.
Films need to be produced in which Latinos are seen as part of the American scene in leading non-stereotypical roles without regard to ethnic background and matched up with African-American, White, Asian, Native American performers. These cinematic excursions can take place in a Los Angeles that is not tied to the Barrio gang culture, or can occur in Middle America, New York, Miami and San Antonio.
Why couldn’t one of the Grown Up males have been George Lopez? Why not a movie teaming Denzel Washington and Jimmy Smits or Mark Wahlberg and William Levy? How about a love story starring Eva Longoria and Mario Lopez or Levy and Jennifer Lawrence?
The Cinematic possibilities are infinite, Hollywood’s imagination is finite.