Latinos star in more Hollywood’s fantasy flicks than real-life tales

My late mother had little chance to fully integrate into American life. She moved to the United States from Mexico in the early 1960s as a 9-year-old and went to work almost immediately—first in garlic and strawberry fields, then as a packer at the old Hunt-Wesson canning plant in Fullerton. Although she learned English, Mommy spoke almost exclusively Spanish for most of her life.

That didn’t stop her from enjoying almost everything Hollywood had to offer.

Their tastes have largely mirrored those of mainstream America over the decades. She enjoyed the screwball antics of Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett and Benny Hill. She gushed about Omar Sharif in Doctor Zhivago and Burt Reynolds in the Smokey and the Bandit films. She thought Steve Martin was a brilliant actor and loved game shows like Family Feud and The Chase.

Mommy wasn’t interested in ultra violence or on-screen nudity. But she was saving a particular brand of anger for a franchise I never expected her to hate: “Star Wars.”

I could never convince her to sit with me to watch the original trilogy on VHS. I yelled at her when my best friend and I waited in line for hours to watch season two in the late 1990s. Mommy wouldn’t even believe my arguments that Star Wars was secretly Mexican because R2-D2 sounded like “Arturito” (“Little Arthur” in Spanish) and we knew a lot of guys with the nickname Chuy.

Her main problem with the intergalactic saga was that she felt it was improbable. For someone who loved Disney movies with Flubber and talking lions, the idea of ​​humans competing in space was just silly. “¿Qué es eso?‘ she would always remark – what is the around?

It wasn’t until this Thanksgiving holiday, while watching the latest Star Wars television drama Andor on Disney+, that I finally realized what bothered Mommy so much about the world of Jedi and Sith.

She grew up in a time when Mexican actors like Anthony Quinn and Ricardo Montalban were movie kings, while ranchera icons like Antonio Aguilar and Lola Beltran regularly graced LA venues like the Hollywood Bowl and the Million Dollar Theater. Latinos weren’t everywhere in the industry, but we were.

The original “Star Wars” series, on the other hand, was whiter than chalk — you know your equity numbers are bad when the only brown-skinned characters are Wookies and Jabba the Hut.

Representation was important to Mami, even if she never said so directly. So I think she would have become a fan of Andor.

The series follows Cassian Andor, a former refugee child who is transformed into a revolutionary after the Galactic Empire overruns his adopted planet. He’s played by Diego Luna, who speaks with a genuine Mexican accent, rather than the fake British accent like many of the other protagonists.

Just seeing Luna’s dreamy face — reminiscent of Paul McCartney in his Let it Be days — would have gotten mommy hooked. The plot – ordinary people rise up against tyranny – is the history of Latin America over the last 200 years. But she would also have watched Andor to support something historic: a cast of Latinos in positive, high-profile acting roles.

Chilean-American Pedro Pascal plays a bounty hunter with a heart of gold in the other major Star Wars show, The Mandalorian. Mexican-born Tenoch Huerta just wowed audiences as Mayan antagonist Namor in the Black Panther sequel, Wakanda Forever. Rosario Dawson is set to star in her own Star Wars series next year.

Ahsoka and Mandalorian and Grogu

Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson) and The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) talk during a scene from the Disney+ show The Mandalorian.

(Disney+)

Latinos play pivotal roles in films from Ant-Man to Doctor Strange in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Xolo Maridueña, the 21-year-old breakout star of The Karate Kid spinoff Cobra Kai, will play the DC Comics character Blue Beetle in a film of the same name. The series Wednesday, which imagines the creepy Addams family as Mexicans, just broke streaming records for Netflix.

After more than a century of film and television portrayals of Latinos as sexpots and criminals, it’s historic to see us play so many heroes.

It’s bittersweet for me too, and not just because I can’t share these shows and movies with Mommy, who passed away from ovarian cancer three and a half years ago. As “Andor” and “The Mandalorian” and their fantasy counterparts rise to fame, Latino-themed shows set in the real world continue to be cancelled.

That year alone ended The Gordita Chronicles, Los Espookys, Gentefied, The Casagrandes, and Promised Land. Two years earlier, the reboots One Day at a Time and Vida — which deal with Latina life in Echo Park and Boyle Heights, respectively — got the ax despite being critical favorites.

It’s as if Hollywood—located in a region that’s almost 50% Latino—can accept us in the worlds of Grogu and Thanos, but not in everyday life.

A report this year by the Government Accountability Office found that while Latinos make up 19% of the US population, they make up only 12% of the media and mostly occupy working-class roles. While Latinos make up just 7% of writers and 11% of producers and editors, they make up 19% of service workers and 12% of handymen.

A UCLA study, meanwhile, found that Latinos make up just 5.3% of all roles on streaming platforms, which executives have long hailed as a great leveler for representation. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” UCLA researchers caustically concluded.

Not even Rep. Joaquin Castro’s (D-San Antonio) threats to condemn the federal government over congressional hearings and investigations into possible labor rights violations against Tinseltown have stopped the studios from doing much to put more Latinos in front of and behind the camera and to donate more than just a symbolic opportunity.

It’s important to have Latinos in the world of mainstream sham. A whole generation of American kids grew up watching Dora the Explorer and Handy Manny. Two films about Día de los Muertos, Coco and The Book of Life, have helped bring the holiday into the mainstream and taught non-Mexicans a new way of commemorating the dead. Non-Latinos swaying to We Don’t Talk About Bruno in the Disney animated film Encanto shows that Latino culture is becoming American culture more than ever.

Because of this, networks, studios, and streamers need to showcase the stories of real Latinos as well. It’s not even that difficult. My childhood and adolescence in the 1980s and 1990s was a golden age of Latinos in film, with modest hits like “Stand and Deliver”, “Born in East LA”, “Selena”, “My Family” and “Blood In Blood” . Out,” which went on to become cult classics — in part because little else followed. The actors and actresses in these films—Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marin, Benjamin Bratt, and Jennifer Lopez being among the most well-known—were subsequently cast in more than just “Latino” roles.

The Joneses should know that the Arellanos are just like them. Movies and TV shows need to show middle-class Latinos and college crushes living in malaise but also in paradise. The ones that are mean and silly and all the other emotions that Hollywood seems to allow everyone but us.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-12-07/column-latinos-hollywood-fantasy Latinos star in more Hollywood’s fantasy flicks than real-life tales

Alley Einstein

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