Latin Representation in Hollywood

“Gotta Kick It Up” premiered twenty years ago and it’s where I learned what “Si Se Puede ” means(Yes You/We Can). The affirmation was probably an early one for President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. The film stars America Ferrera, Claudia Guaty, Susan Egan, Jhoanna Flores, Suilma Rodriguez, and Sabrina Weiner as a dance team who bring Latin grooves into their routines while learning discipline and teamwork. This film was post-“Bring It On”. The characters endured the Disney formula of conflict, inspiration, and resolution. The characters experienced shifts in how to respond to the situation before it got better. 

In the twenty years since “Gotta Kick It Up”, Latinx representation has gotten…..better. John Leguizamo often brings to light the discrepancies of who plays Latin characters. His bullhorn is strong through his social media. He also directed “Critical Thinking” about the Miami Jackson High School Chess Team, the first inner city school to win the U.S. National Chess Championship. Speaking about the discrepancies in representation is not enough. Contributing to filmmaking behind the camera and prioritizing representation matters.

“Cheetah Girls”, a 2003 Disney film, starred Adrienne Bailon, then in the group 3LW, as one of the titular characters. Adrienne is a Latina and a New Yorker. I say this as a rare feat of casting for the person of the community to be a part of telling the story. Jessica Alba played Sue Storm, a lily-white comic book character, in the “Fantastic Four” films in the mid-2000s. This was before the idea of casting someone who was not white was done. With the casting of a new iteration for a film set to be released in 2024, the casting of Sue Storm will be watched for if the actor cast will be white. There are casting changes for a character who is not played by the actor of that background. Camila Mendes stars on “Riverdale” as Veronica Lodge. Casting choices provide an understanding of how an audience witnesses a character.

“Halftime” is the documentary on Netflix about Jennifer Lopez preparing for the 2020 Super Bowl Halftime show. 2019 going into 2020 was monumental for her career, given her starring role in “Hustlers” and the awards season that was following. Also, performing on a global stage at the Super Bowl. In the documentary, Lopez also talked about how the media portrayed her as a diva, the lack of access to roles to play a Latina, and her ventures to represent Puerto Ricans and Latinas. 

Social entrepreneurs Stephanie Valencia and Jess Morales Rocketto raised $80 million dollars for “a new media content creation, talent incubation and distribution company, aimed at reaching the Hispanic market, initially focused on audio.” Eva Longoria is one of the high-profile investors. The power of Latin representation also includes having voices in the media who reflect the community. Ana Navarro, a prolific political pundit, joined “The View” as a regular co-host after setting the table on fire for years with her vital commentary including about voting and advocating for immigrants. She is also a Republican, who needless to say, provides an honest perspective on a mostly unethical political party. 

Batgirl was scrapped as a film release in favor of a tax return for Warner Brother/Discovery. The film was deemed as not big enough for a theatrical release and certainly not for a streaming service release. Leslie Grace played Batgirl. She also starred in “In the Heights”, a film distributed by Warner Brothers. The “Gordita Chronicles” was canceled by HBO. The show was from the perspective of Cucu Castelli, a news reporter, who narrates her upbringing in 1980s Miami from the Dominican Republic as a “gordita”. Eva Longoria and Melissa Fumero, from “Brooklyn 99”, directed episodes. Zoe Saldaña was also an executive producer. A Latin cast “Father of the Bride” also premiered earlier this year on HBO Max to a big audience viewing for HBO Max.

The casting of Tenoch Huerta and Mabel Cadena in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a rare occasion when a person from the Latin community is cast to tell the story. These casting choices were imperative. “Crazy Rich Asians” was a phenomenon at the same as “Black Panther” was in theaters. And they say legends cannot coexist. To land a role in a highly-anticipated film as “Wakanda Forever” and carry the culture will be extraordinary to witness. Bad Bunny, global musician and Puerto Rican, will star in “El Muerto”, part of the Spider-Man Universe. He made his acting debut in “Bullet Train” this summer. He is also in the Corona Beer commercials, strolling on the beach in colorful short sets.

Ana De Armas has also expressed the desire to play a Latina. She became a victorious action hero due to “No Time to Die” as a Bond girl and in “The Gray Man”, streaming on Netflix. She stars as Marilyn Monroe in the film, “Blonde”. Ana speaks in the role of her native Cuban accent. De Armas has leveraged her star power, charisma, and acting power to advocate for better roles and crew behind the scenes. She is starring in the spin-off to the “John Wick” film, “Ballerina”, in which she interviewed and hired Academy-Award-winning screenwriter Emerald Fennell to create a feminist story. 

The conversation about representation in Hollywood is mostly met with half of a step forward, three steps back. Certainly, with Latin representation, there is far less with disability, age, and sexuality. “Pose”, the truly groundbreaking show with Latin trans characters, as well as Wilson Cruz on “Star Trek: Discovery”, who is also married to a man on the show, come to mind regarding broader Latin representation. Ultimately, Hollywood is a business. What makes money gets greenlit, as seen with a number of canceled projects. Eva Longoria directed the story about Richard Montañez, who turned Flamin’ Hot Cheetos into a beloved snack and launched the hot snacks craze most people know and love. Latin artists are taking and honoring the responsibility through access and accountability to tell their stories.

Reading Materials

You Sound Like a White Girl: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation by Julissa Arce shares cultural commentary about her experience as an immigrant and resisting assimilation as a key to success and happiness. Her voice harkens back to living in San Antonio, TX in the early 1990s to the present with passion and power. 

I have also mentioned in another post, Latinx Lens, a podcast discussing Latin representation in TV and film. 

Here are resources from Feminist Book Club that align with this conversation:

  1. In Celebration of Latinx Short Stories by Lucy Pabst
  2. Rah Hernandez’s podcast interview with author Erika L. Sanchez
  3. Latinx Horror Recommendations by Nina Avila-Garcia
  4. A Love Letter to Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Work by Nina Avila-Garcia
  5. #YOSISOYPERIODISTA by Nina Avila-Garcia
  6. Teaching Latinx Heritage Year Round by Claudia Neu
Ashley Paul is a traveler, runner, and baker. She is an Everlasting Bookworm and Culture Maven. She is passionate about supporting high school juniors and seniors to write compelling stories for their post-secondary careers. She loves stories with social commentary, atmospheric writing, and compelling characters.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *