The Remarkable Life And Career Of Edward James Olmos, Who Continues To Represent Us Proudly
It’s no secret that the Hollywood industry has a diversity problem. The exclusion of Latinos in the arts was the basis of a study conducted by Professor Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. The results, which were released last month, were dismal. As of 2018 “only 4.5 percent of all 47,268 speaking or named characters across the last 12 years were Latino and a mere 3 percent of lead or co-lead actors.” For Latinos, this news is not a surprise. That is why we hold Latino actors, the few that have gotten the chance to work and especially those that have been in the Hollywood industry for decades, with such high regard. For us, there is one such person that not only has been our representation in Hollwyood but has also told the story of historic Latinos.
Edward James Olmos has led a remarkable career in film and television that spans more than 45 years.
This Mexican-American thespian has 121 acting credits to his name, and that does not include his work on Broadway, as a director, or composer. Within his storied career in Hollywood, Olmos has an estimated 29 awards in his field and 27 nominations. It would surprise some people to know that Olmos had aspirations that didn’t include acting at all.
Olmos was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Boyle Heights and in Montebello, California.
In a 2013 interview, Olmos said he had a strong work ethic thanks to his parents who were always working. He was raised by his great grandparents and strived to try it all from sports to music and even politics. As a young teen, Olmos wanted to be a baseball player. He also the lead singer of a band. “I really had a strong passion for baseball,” Olmos said, who was first caught up by the sport at age five. But admits he didn’t have the talent for it at such a young age. He said it was the divorce of his parents, around the age of seven, that made him want to dedicate himself to the sport. He said baseball taught him a lot about discipline which helped him understand his capabilities as a person. In 1960, around the age of 15 and 16, Olmos began to have another passion. He wanted to be a rock n’ roll star. Even though he said he couldn’t sing very well, he called himself a performer. For two years that he performed in a rock band, Olmos said his father stopped talking to him because he didn’t approve of his new path.
After years as a stage actor, his breakthrough role came in 1981 in the film “Zoot Suit.”
In 1964, while in college, Olmos took his first acting class. He said his discipline of baseball and his passion for singing lead him naturally to consider acting. He said he tried auditioning but always got turned down. He kept at it and studied acting under the greats. He started doing theater in Los Angeles, and in 1978 he got a role in the theater production of “Zoot Suit” about the true story of the 1943 riots in Los Angeles that resulted in the arrests of many Latinos. In 1979, Olmos received a Tony Award nomination for his role of El Pachuco. In 1981, a film version of the play hit theaters and Olmos comprised as El Pachuco once again.
In 1988, Olmos portrayed the true story of math teacher Jaime Escalante in the beloved film “Stand and Deliver.”
The story depicts how students from James A. Garfield High School in East Los Angeles overcame immense obstacles to pass AP Calculus tests during their senior year. The film received several Independent Spirit Awards including for Best Male Lead, which Olmos won, and Best Supporting Male for actor Lou Diamond Phillips. Olmos also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Olmos remembers that role fondly and with emotion. “Nobody wanted to give us a penny to tell the story of a Bolivian man helping kids take a math test,” he said earlier this year to Remezcla. “Watching my performance, I realized what he gave us, it was like catching lightning in a bottle and we did it.”
Today, Olmos continues to have a stellar body of work from “Battlestar Galactica” to “Portlandia” and “Mayans M.C.”
Some of his most recognized roles including in “Selena,” “Blade Runner,” “American Me,” and “My Family” and the work he is doing today on television has solidified Olmos as an icon in Hollywood and within the Latin community.
“In 1964, when I started out we weren’t 22 percent of the population of the U.S, we were much less. We were also less than 2 percent of all the content in television and film. Today, with 22 percent of the population, we are still less than 4 percent of all content. We are in a worse place now,” he said. While that is an unfortunate fact, we’re still so thrilled and proud that he continues to represent us today.
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