Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Latino Representation in Hollywood

Monday morning, August 26th, I read articles in the Entertainment section of The Los Angeles Times the reported "For Latinos, underrepresentation and stereotypical portrayals remain firmly in place." This is according to information from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. I am not surprised at that news. To me, that news is -- as my late mother used to say -- "a sin and a shame." I am not surprised at the news. It hurts because, as a person of color, I feel the frustration in my bones. I have for decades. That same day, Variety quoted Jennifer Lopez when she revealed that friends urged her not to be a judge on AMERICAN IDOL They felt it would cripple her career. Said Lopez: "The truth is, I'm not getting offered a whole bunch  of movies..."
So she went to weekly TV. Just like Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg did because she wasn't getting any movie offers. Just like Oscar nominee Viola Davis did because, after her second Oscar nomination, she wasn't getting any major film offers. When she was starring on ABC's hit series, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, Viola Davis landed the film version of FENCES. That performance brought her a third Oscar nomination. She won for Best Supporting Actress.

Back in 2017, I was listening to a film review hour on radio. The comedy HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER was opening. One of the critics politely said it was a sweet, goofy little movie that probably wouldn't do anything at the box office. I thought to myself, "Really?" The lead actor, Eugenio Derbez, may not have mainstream U.S recognition like Seth Rogen or Adam Sandler, but the Mexican actor is hugely popular with Mexican movie-goers. That film review hour is a Los Angeles broadcast and, Lord knows, there's no shortage of Mexican movie-goers in Southern California.
HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER was made for $12 million. It pulled in $60 million at the box office. By the way, the critic who felt the film would not do any business at the box office was a white critic. That reminds me, yet again, that the voices of more people of color are needed in arts criticism and appreciation.

KNX news radio in L.A. had a special 1-hour live show about Hollywood's color controversy in light of "Oscars So White." This show aired after folks were livid that STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015) and Ryan Coogler's FRUITVALE STATION (2013) failed to get top Oscar nominations after having been critically acclaimed. Underrepresentation and the need for more racial inclusion were topics on the show. A representative from a Hispanic Arts organization was on the panel. From 1990 to 2008, even when I was in shows airing Monday through Friday on national television, Broadcast/TV agents turned me down for representation. They usually said, "I wouldn't know what to do with you." One thing I noticed in all the meetings with Broadcast/TV agents I had at top agencies in New York City from 1990 t0 2008. I had seen only one African-American agent. I saw her in 1990. She was one month from departing William Morris.  All the agents I met with were white. Several knew zilch about my career because they'd never bothered to view my demo reel. However, all the Latino and Black folks who worked at the reception desks always knew my work and had watched me.  If THEY had been the agents, I would've had representation -- and job offers.

When I asked if having people of color as agents in the top entertainment agencies would help, the Hispanic Arts rep loved the question. His answer was an enthusiastic "Yes!"

The USC study found that in the top 100 Hollywood films from 2007 through 2018, only 4.5% of all speaking characters were Latino.

For your DVD entertainment, I've got recommendations that feature Latino talent. First up, one of my favorite actors. He can slam across a solid dramatic performance and then be the funny saving grace of a cheesy comedy like the 2017 film version of CHiPS based on the 1970s TV cop series that made a star of Erik Estrada. I happily spend money to see Michael Peña onscreen. When I see this Mexican-American interviewed on TV, no one ever mentions that he has acted in five Best Picture Oscar nominees: MILLION DOLLAR BABY, CRASH, BABEL, AMERICAN HUSTLE and THE MARTIAN. In addition to that, no one ever mentions his lead role performance in a 2014 biopic. Michael Peña starred in CESAR CHAVEZ, playing the famous labor organizer and civil rights activist. I grew up in L.A. during the 1960s. Chavez's name and activity were in daily newspaper and network TV news. Like Dr. King, he was important to our community. Like Dr. King, his non-violent protest got the attention and help of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. A white man telling Mexican-Americans to "go back where you came from!" is a moment from the 1960s in this biopic that makes it feel timely.  CESAR CHAVEZ was directed by Diego Luna.
America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson and John Malkovich costar. Dawson plays Dolores Huerta. Huerta, now 89, was arrested and released just last week for protesting for the rights of union workers in Fresno. Michael Peña recently starred in DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD.

There's a young, talented Latino supporting cast in the 2008 comedy, HAMLET 2. Steve Coogan stars as a failed actor who became a high school drama teacher in Tucson, Arizon. The man is absolutely clueless. What I love about this comedy is that it flipped the script on those many "white savior" classroom drama in which a Caucasian teacher has a class full of tough Black and Latino students from the 'hood and turns then into scholastic achievers. In HAMLET 2, the Mexican-American students are the ones who realize their teacher's brain is as smooth as a rock and he needs their help. They all rile the conservative parents when the teacher writes a sequel to Shakespeare's HAMLET. Jesus is a character in the sequel.  In this comedy is mighty fine work from Joseph Julia Soria, who plays the teacher's biggest headache, and Melonie Diaz. She went on to give a beautiful dramatic performance opposite Michael B. Jordan in FRUITVALE STATION. Take a look at the funny and original HAMLET 2.

In 2017, Salma Hayek starred in a short and strong social drama. BEATRIZ AT DINNER runs only 1 hour and 25 minutes but it sure packs a punch. In Los Angeles, she's a working class holistic healer and massage therapist. Her car breaks down after she finishes an appointment with a high-tone white client who lives way outside of Beatriz's neighborhood. The politically correct client invites Beatriz to stay for dinner. The client has friends who are also coming over for dinner. Beatriz gets a big serving of white privilege. They get a big serving of minority realness.

There was a crime drama in 2006 called LONELY HEARTS. Salma Hayek stole the movie. You might not have heard of this one. It starred John Travolta and James Gandolfini as detectives on the real-life "Lonely Hearts Killers" case of the 1940s. The story of the two killers, Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez, was done previously in the gritty and gripping 1970 black and white indie film, THE HONEYMOON KILLERS. Tony Lo Bianco and Shirley Stoler starred.
The 2006 film, LONELY HEARTS, was pretty much shelved. It played for a couple of weeks at one arthouse theater in Greenwich Village when I was in New York City. People missed one sizzling performance from Salma Hayek as a sexy scorpion of a female. Here, we see a dark-haired Latina giving you the film noir femme fatale character. She plays Martha Beck, a psycho killer who draws a not-too-smart Ray Fernandez, played well by Jared Leto, into her web of crime, a crime that will lead to their execution. Click onto the link to see a clip from LONELY HEARTS:

Travolta and Gandolfini aren't bad. Scott Caan always comes off like he's doing an imitation of his dad, James Caan, from a 1970s movie. The real juice in this movie is the Jared Leto and Salma Hayek pairing. She will have your hormones spinning like they're in one of those giant teacups at Disneyland.

Happy viewing.

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