Entertainment

20 Things to Know About Tony Award Winner Lindsay Mendez

If you don’t follow Broadway closely, you might not have heard the name Lindsay Mendez until she stepped on stage to receive her Tony Award at Sunday’s ceremony. As she gave her heartwarming speech, accepting the award for Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as Carrie Pipperidge, a late-1800s millworker in New England, tears undoubtedly came to the eyes of many Latinx theater fans as she described her early life in New York City and why she is proud “to be a part of a community that celebrates diversity and individuality” after ignoring advice to whitewash her last name.

But the Mexican-American actress from California (who is also of Russian Jewish descent) isn’t a total newcomer. In fact, she has had such eponymous roles as Elphaba in “Wicked” and Jan in “Grease.” But with her Tony Award fresh in her hands, she has officially stepped into the spotlight as only a few Latinx theater actors have before. Want to get to know her? From her upbringing in Orange Country to her past work on the Great White Way, here are 20 things that you should know about Tony Award-winning actress Lindsay Mendez.

1. She was advised to whitewash her last name when she moved to New York.

CREDIT: Photo: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

“When I moved to New York, I was told to change my last name from Mendez to Matthews or I wouldn’t work,” she said during her acceptance speech on Sunday night. “And I just want to say how proud I am to be a part of a community that celebrates diversity and individuality.”

2. She is only the 6th Latina in Tony Awards history to win an award.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

Previous Latina Tony winners include Rita Moreno (Featured Actress in a Play for “The Ritz” in 1975), Chita Rivera (Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018), Priscilla Lopez (Featured Actress in a Musical for “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine” in 1980), Sara Ramirez (Featured Actress in a Musical for “Spamalot” in 2005), and Karen Olivo (Featured Actress in a Musical for “West Side Story” in 2009).

3. She is of Mexican descent and was born in California.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

Although she is originally from Norwalk, California, she is actually of Mexican and Russian Jewish descent.

4. She received news of her nomination while at home in her pajamas.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

“I was at home in bed in my pajamas,” she said in an interview with NBC Latino. “Then so many people called to tell me the news that my phone basically died. I had been thinking that maybe it (a nomination) could happen, but I didn’t want to jinx it.”

5. She has appeared in “Wicked,” “Grease,” and “Godspell” before her Tony Award-winning role in “Carousel.”

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

According to Internet Broadway Database, her previous roles include Elphaba in “Wicked,” Jan in “Grease,” Dance Captain in “Everyday Rapture,” as part of the ensemble cast in “Godspell,” Laura in “Significant Other,” and finally Carrie Pipperidge in “Carousel.”

6. She encouraged other performers to be their true selves.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

“To all of you artists out there, just be your true self and the world will take note!” she said during her speech.

7. She is a vlogger for Broadway.com.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

You can watch her videos here.

8. She actually considered changing her name to Lindsay Matthews.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

“I was going to change [my name] to Lindsay Matthews, this is true,” she said backstage at the Tony Awards. “At that time, when I moved here, there weren’t that many Latina actresses. I thought that my grandparents would be so devastated. They worked so hard to get me here. I thought, either they’re going to like what I’m doing or what I’m not.”

9. She’s very proud of being a Mexican woman playing in a Broadway show set in New England.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

“When I came here, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me on Broadway. I just knew I had to stay true to myself,” she told NBC News. “Now here I am, a Mexican woman playing a role in ‘Carousel,’ set in New England, with a hugely diverse cast. That is exciting to me. Just because I am Latina doesn’t mean I can only play one character.”

10. She never thought she would have to hone a Maine accent.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

“Just because you’re a minority, doesn’t mean you only have to play roles that are set to be a minority,” she said during the Tony Awards backstage press conference. “I love getting to play this crazy Maine girl in New England — an accent I’d never thought I’d have to hone.”

11. She has big plans for her future career on Broadway.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

During the Tony Awards press conference, she admitted that her dream roles are “Flora, the Red Menace” or Winifred in “Once Upon a Mattress.”

12. She never studied jazz, despite being known for it in her cabaret work.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

“I never studied jazz. I never even went to college. I began buying music and educating myself on it and I ended up buying a lot of jazz,” she said in an interview with Stage Rush. “I was really into Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughn. I just started hoarding this music. By hearing it, I’d wonder if it was something I could do. I’ve learned to do it and it’s really fun. Getting to scat is not a common thing in musical theater, but I’ve gotten to do it a lot. It’s really great to flex my muscles and see if I can make it work in the context. I don’t ever want it to be masturbatory. It has to fit and be exactly right.”

13. She’s proud to be part of such a diverse cast that makes late-1800s Maine look like America today.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

“I probably feel a little bit more strongly about that because I happen to be Mexican,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I think that people want to come and see that all types of people are represented in theater. I think it would be irresponsible to not do that. I heard a statistic yesterday that only 2% of Actors’ Equity members who are working are Latino, and that just hit me so hard. When shows like ‘In the Heights’ or ‘Evita’ or ‘West Side Story’ aren’t running, Hispanic people aren’t getting that much of a chance.”

14. Before her Tony Award, she was already a winner.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

Before the Tony Awards this Sunday, Mendez already won a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award for her role as Carrie Pipperidge in “Carousel.”

15. She started acting at a very young age.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

“My sister did a production of ‘Annie,’ and I remember — I think I was 3 or 4 years old — I just screamed to my mom that I wanted to do that,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “So my mom put me in dance class pretty early on, 4 or 5 years old. And I started studying voice when I was 6. I pretty much always just wanted to do this.”

16. She co-founded Actor Therapy in 2012.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

This organization, which is a training and mentorship program that she co-founded with Rso, has been “over the moon” about Mendez’s success.

17. You might see her in a film soon.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

Although she has appeared in TV’s “Smash” in the past (playing herself in 2013 episode “The Transfer”), she is considering TV or a film in her future. “I’m only interested in things that scare the hell out of me, that feel like a huge challenge. So maybe TV or a film,” she told the Los Angeles Times.

18. She’s used to relating to the roles she plays.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

In “Godspell,” she played a character named Lindsay too and told Stage Rush that “there aren’t many things that differ from her and I and it’s been really fun to have the audience get to know who I really am.” But even before then, she admits that it’s not strange to her. “I feel like I always bring a huge part of myself to any role I play. In ‘Everyday Rapture,’ I played myself as well, in a way. I’m kind of used to playing myself. It’s not as foreign to me.”

19. She met her husband because of “Wicked”… sort of.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

“After [playing Elphaba in] “Wicked” [on Broadway] I went out to Kansas City [where her husband Philip Wakefield lived] for the world premiere of this new musical by Nick Blaemire called “A Little More Alive” at Kansas City Rep,” she told Playbill.com. “On my last week there I really wanted to go see jazz music, so I found this jazz club called The Green Lady online, and since I had just played the green lady [in “Wicked”] it felt like the right place to go. Philip was playing the drums there.” The two married in May 2016.

20. She feels lucky that other Latinos get to see her on stage and feel inspired.

CREDIT: PHOTO: Lindsay Mendez/Instagram

“Sometimes Latin people come and see me at the stage door, and say they are happy to see someone like them on stage,” she said to NBC News. “So I feel lucky to be part of this theatrical community — and to be honored and accepted here in this way.”


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This Short Film Centers Around A Black Father Doing His Daughter’s Hair

Entertainment

This Short Film Centers Around A Black Father Doing His Daughter’s Hair

When it comes to grooming a daughter’s hair, Black fathers haven’t been shy about expressing the difficulties that come along with the morning ritual. And Afro-Latino fathers are no exception. In Latinx communities with large Afro-Latino populations, having “good hair” is a label we all have to contend with. Young girls have a lot of pressure put on them to look put-together so, by extension, our families look put together. 

We all have memories of our mothers making sure our baby-bangs were smoothed down and our outfits were washed and pressed to perfection. 

Being well-groomed is so important to Afro-Latinos who face societal pressure to look perfect in order to combat bias.

Kickstarter

So, when fathers occasionally have to groom their children when their mother is unavailable, the pressure, needless to say, is on. We’ve all seen the genre of viral videos where fathers struggle to part, brush, braid and secure their daughters’ hair–obviously not previously aware of all the labor that goes into daily hair upkeep. Even celebrities have gotten in on the trend with men like Alexis Ohanian, husband to Serena Williams, joining “Natural Hair” groups on Facebook to learn more about their children’s rizos

Writer/director Matthew Cherry wanted to explore the topic of Black fathers doing their daughters hair, so he decided to make an animated short about it.

Kickstarter

According to Cherry, the short, titled “Hair Love” is about a Black father (who has locs himself) who does his daughter’s hair for the first time. “You know how guys are, a lot of times we’re hard-headed and we think we can figure everything out by ourselves without asking for help,” said Cherry during an interview. “[The father in the short] thinks it’s going to be an easy task but he soon finds out her hair has a mind of its own”. 

The father isn’t the only one who learns a lesson in self-confidence in the course of the film, though. In the end, the young girl also “comes into a level of self-confidence in the process” of her father learning how to do her hair. So, in other words, the entire film is an ode to self-love, family, and the priceless experience of bonding.

To finance “Hair Love”, Cherry created a Kickstarter campaign with the initial goal of raising $75,000. The campaign quickly caught the internet’s attention and became a viral phenomenon thanks to celebrity champions like Issa Rae and Jordan Peele. The $75,000 goal was quickly surpassed. All in all, the campaign raked in a total of $280,000–smashing Kickstarter’s short-film financing records. 

Cherry recruited Black animators like “Proud Family”‘s Bruce W. Smith and “WALL-E”‘s Everett Downing Jr. to help him make his dreams a reality.

As for Cherry, he’s candid about the reason he decided to explore the topic of Black hair and Black fathers: because mainstream media’s representation has left much to be desired. According to Cherry, not only did he want to shine a light on the labor of love that doing Black hair requires, but he wanted to highlight the relationships between Black fathers and their daughters. 

“For me, I just think it was really important to shine a light on Black fathers doing domestic things with their kids because mainstream media would lead you to believe that Black fathers aren’t a part of their kids’ lives”, Cherry said. “And there have been a lot of recent surveys that actually show otherwise–that show that Black fathers are just as involved in their kids’ lives as any other racial group”.

Now, “Hair Love” will be played ahead of “The Angry Birds Movie 2” in theaters nationwide

Kickstarter

The nationwide release will provide a massive platform for an under-told story. Not to mention, it will provide Black children with their own images reflected back to them–something many of them haven’t seen before. Not to mention, the security of a theatrical release has made “Hair Love” officially eligible for an Academy Award nomination. 

As for Cherry, he’s over-the-moon about the opportunity for his project to be seen by millions of people. “To see this project go from a Kickstarter campaign to the big screen is truly a dream come true,” he said in a press statement. “I couldn’t be more excited for “Hair Love” to be playing with “The Angry Birds Movie 2” in front of a wide audience and for the world to see our touching story about a Black father trying to figure out how to do his daughter’s hair for the very first time.”

We’ll admit: we didn’t have plans to see “Angry Birds 2” in theaters before we knew about this. But now, you might just see us on opening night, standing in line for the movie right next to our fathers! Catch “Hair Love” before  “The Angry Birds Movie 2” in theaters on August 14th.

Video: This Is How People Reacted When They Heard A White Mom Tell Her Adopted Latina Daughter To Speak English

Culture

Video: This Is How People Reacted When They Heard A White Mom Tell Her Adopted Latina Daughter To Speak English

It seems like every other day there’s a new viral video of an old Trump supporter or a young white bro telling a Latinx person in the US to stop speaking Spanish. Recently, two elder women angrily ordered a Puerto Rican manager of a Central Florida Burger King to go back to Mexico when they overheard him speaking Spanish in a private conversation, while two Mexican-American women were detained by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection just for speaking Spanish at a Montana supermarket. The xenophobic and racist attacks, both verbal and physical, have made many feel like it’s dangerous to speak their own tongue or like an outcast for communicating to their parents or grandparents in the only language they know.

The English-only movement has further divided a country, with those ignited by the bigotry of the Trump administration unfoundedly threatened by just the sound of a person of color speaking another tongue and others who understand there is no official language in the US supporting the linguistic freedom and multiculturalism that allegedly makes the nation exceptional. 

On an episode of What Would You Do?, host John Quiñones confronts the schismatic topic. 

During the nearly 9-minute-long segment of the ABC series, a white mother tells her adopted Latina daughter to only speak Spanish and instructs her to order a hamburger instead of a traditional Latin American dish. Using hidden cameras to record the very common, but in this case staged, scenario, viewers get a peak of how ordinary people behave when they witness dilemmas that either compel them to intervene or mind their own business.

During the segment, Michele, the mother, and Isabella, the daughter, are grabbing a bite at a diner in Orangeburg, New York. The child asks the Latina waitress for arroz con leche, to which her mother responds, “Isabella, stop speaking Spanish. You’re American. That is not your language. What is wrong with you?” The first person to overhear, an elder white teacher, engages with the duo, telling Michele she doesn’t think she’s going about the situation “in the right way.” 

“She should be proud of her Spanish language, not to be made to feel like she’s doing something wrong,” she tells the mother. Later, she even advises the mom to learn Spanish and tells the young girl that Spanish is a beautiful language.

When Quiñones, himself a Texas-born Mexican-American, reveals his crew and asks why the woman intervened, she responded, “When it comes to children, I go from a mouse to a lion. I just don’t like anybody taking advantage of a child.”

In another scene, Isabela asks for arroz con pollo. Michele, visibly upset, scolds the girl. “Isabella, in English,” she demands. “I brought you here to give you a better life, and I want you to speak American.

This time, another teacher in a nearby table overhears and decides to offer Michele a quick lesson — in patience.

ABC

When Michele stresses that she just wants her daughter to speak English because they’re in the US, the teacher sympathizes with her. “I know. I’m a teacher, and I get it. But you’re not going to get anywhere demanding it, and you can’t get frustrated by it.”

She then turns to the girl and attempts to rationalize her mother’s actions. When Isabela asks the woman “do you think it’s wrong to speak Spanish,” she replies, “Not to mommy, because mommy doesn’t understand that. It’s good manners if you are with other people that don’t speak it, to speak English.”

When Quiñones pops out and confronts the patron, he asks her why she didn’t flat-out tell the mother she was wrong. The woman, who noted that Michele would have had better results honoring rather than attacking her daughter’s native tongue, said she was “getting very frustrated” and “was thinking maybe it was very bad,” but doesn’t know why she didn’t challenge Michele more on it.

In the next case, it’s a Puerto Rican diner who overhears the conversation. Not immediately making any comment, when Michele steps away, Isabela engages with the patron, who informs her she, too, speaks Spanish. “Yo hablo español,” she says, before asking if the young girl likes living in the US. “That’s good that somebody loving adopted you,” she says.

When Michele returned, she asks the woman if she agrees that her daughter should be speaking English instead of Spanish, to which she responds yes. At that moment, her partner, a white man, appears puzzled and chimes in: “You speak Spanish,” he tells his girlfriend. “I don’t make you speak English.” He then reacts to Michele, saying, “She [his girlfriend] speaks Spanish whenever she wants, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

When Quiñones comes out, he asks why the couple reacted the way they did. The boyfriend didn’t agree with the mother, explaining, “that’s who she is. That’s part of her identity.” As for the girlfriend, who was more sympathetic to the mom, she disclosed the discrimination she and her family experienced as Latinas in their predominately white neighborhood speaking Spanish and hoped the girl wouldn’t share her same fate. “I was a little annoyed in a way,” she said, “… but I’ve dealt with that.” She continued: “my mother spoke no English, and I had many fights when I was a teenager, people who would make fun a lot of times.”

Finally, in the last performance, it’s a white woman who is married to a Greek immigrant who is shaken by the confrontation. Angry by the conversation she overhears, she checks in on Isabela the moment her mom steps away, asking the girl if she wants her to call someone for her own safety and soon after informing a manager of the situation and urging them to phone officials who could help the girl.

When the mother returns, the woman confronts her. 

ABC

“We’re foreigners, so I don’t really understand what you’re talking about.” After Michele responds, “I just want her to be more American,” the woman questions, “and just forget about where she came from?” She continued: “We’re from Greece. We would never forget where we come from.”

Michele suggests that it’s different because her daughter is from Mexico, to which the woman, furious, says, “so you guys don’t accept Mexicans in your family?”

She added: “This is a melting pot of thousands of different people. My husband is Greek and my kids will speak Greek.”

Quiñones, who appears in the midst of the argument, informs the patron that she is on a TV show. The woman, who says she’s glad it’s fake because she was about to punch Michele, reaffirms that the US is a country where everyone is supposed to be welcomed and could proudly speak with their language. 

Meeting the actress who played Isabela, the woman tells her, “You would have been coming home with me tonight, and you would have been speaking English, Spanish, and Greek.”

Watch the entire segment below! 

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