Wanted: Latino Movie Heroes

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“Hollywood, I know your middle name.  Who inspires your fabled fools?”  — Steely Dan

 

I recently saw 300 again for the 300th time. Never get tired watching a handful of Spartan warriors hold off Xerxes million man army’s march on Greece. But, have you noticed all the actors in Hollywood movies about the ancient Romans, Greeks, or Egyptians, have pale skin, bad teeth and sound like Richard Burton or James Mason?

The actress who plays the Greek Spartan queen in 300 didn’t sound a bit like Ariana Huffington.

Hollywood has an ethnic authenticity problem when casting movies and deciding which ethnic groups are marketable as heroes. Consider the original 1960 western, The Magnificent Seven and the 2016 remake now screening everywhere.

Now to be cinematically accurate, The Magnificent Seven is a retelling of legendary Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. So when it was proposed to produce Kurosawa’s classic into an American western, Hollywood studio moguls scratched their heads quizzically:

“Is the American public going to buy a bunch of Japanese actors playing American cowboys?”

ricardomontalbansayonara“Why not?,” asked Ricardo Montalbán. “I was a Japanese kabuki performer in Sayonara.”

Predictably, the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven(which I love) centers around a village of poor, hapless Mexican farmers constantly being raided and robbed by local bandidos. They raise enough money to hire seven Anglo gunslingers to defend them. All well and good. Besides, who doesn’t love Elmer Bernstein’s stirring musical score? Director John Sturges uses William Roberts‘ screenplay to paint complex portraits of the seven gunslingers as morally conflicted anti-heroes.

However, from a Latino perspective, the question is why did these Mexican villagers require the services of gringo gunfighters? Another White Man’s Burden subtext?

The Mexican army that kicked French Army ass at The Battle of Puebla and formed the revolutionary guerreros of Zapata and Villa came from that very same Mexican, peasant, village stock. In films likeDances with Wolves, Apocalypse Now!, and The Last Samurai, it’s always an Anglo-American teaching an established warrior class of people how to do it better; the right way…the white way.

Eli Wallach
Eli Wallach

Even the jefe of the Mexican bandits is played by venerable, non-Hispanic character actor, Eli Wallach. Nothing against Wallach. He’s convincingly menacing as Calvera, the cruel, ruthless bandit chief. Wallach also portrays another memorable Mexican baddie in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Wallach delivers a bravura, campy, tour de force performance as the Mexican “ugly” Tuco. Question: Why is the Mexican “the ugly”? Was Gilbert Roland busy? With Roland as Tuco, the movie would become“The Good, The Bad, y El Guapo.

So, I had an ethnic-miscasting chip (frito?) on my shoulder watching the new, 2016 version of The Magnificent Seven. Denzel Washington’s appearance in the film was another issue. Washington starred in the totally unrecognizable, awful 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate. Denzel, regrettably, goes 0 for 2 with another cinematic whiff.

Similar plot: Poor farmers in small town are terrorized by a murderous, greedy, robber baron. But this time, the farmers are white folks. One brave woman employs the seven gunfighters. Immediately, I thought to myself, “She could have saved a lot of money by hiring seven undocumented Mexicanpistoleros to do the same job.”

I mentally visualized the epic gun battles musically scored with Latino rockers Del Castillo, under the direction of Robert Rodriguez.

Another disappointing feature of this latest incarnation is that its less an homage to the vision, spirit and heart of Kurosawa and Sturges, but instead a wink and nod to Stan Lee and Marvel Comics. Unlike the psychically damaged swordsmen / gunmen in the Kurosawa / Sturges masterpieces, these Sevenare essentially one-dimensional, cardboard cut+out superheroes. This movie could easily have been titled: The Fantastic Four Plus Three = Seven.

The climatic shoot-out set piece is a chaotic, drawn out sequence replete with pistols, rifles and even a Gatling gun blazing away, mowing down everybody and everything in sight. The town is reduced to a pile of splintered wood, shattered glass and dead people littering the street. The Marvelous Fantastic Seven save the town, but destroy it in the process. No worries. In the upcoming sequel, Los siete magnificos, the women folk recruit seven hunky Chicano janitors to clean up the mess.

Excuse me, Tomas. Can I call you Tommy? Excuse me Tommy, when you finish sweeping up the street, can you come to my house and clean my pool? It’s so hot and I want to wear my bikini.”

¡Oh claro que si señorita!”

How come Hollywood doesn’t use an all Latino cast to remake traditionally all-white stories? The Wizard of Oz was successfully redone with an all African-American cast (The Wiz). Why not an all Hispanic re imagining of Nicholas and Alexandra, and the epic sage of the Russian Revolution?

Let’s see. How ’bout…

NICO Y LEXIE

George Lopez as Czar Nico

Sofia Vargara as Czarina Lexie

Act I

Czar Nico

Apurate vieja. We’ll be late for the Grand Ball. I hired Fito Olivares to play cumbia music. Vamos a bailar toda la noche.

Czarina Lexie

Oh no, mis pies me están matando.”

I’ll have the script to Robert Rodriguez ASAP.

 

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