When White Actors Stop Getting All The Good Latino Roles, Maybe We’ll Stop Complaining

credit: ARGO / Warner Bros. Pictures

Did you know that in 2013, less than 5 percent of movie roles went to Latino actors?

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(There’s so few Latinos in movies that we had to use a Ryan Gosling GIF.)

According to a study by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, Latinos held only 4.9 percent of the roles in the top 100 movies of 2013. That’s despite the fact that Latinos make up nearly 18 percent of the population in the U.S. Oh, and BTW, Latinos are more likely to spend their money at the movies: they made up 25 percent of moviegoers in 2013. So what gives?

Remember Matt Damon’s comments about diversity? During an episode of HBO’s Project Greenlight, Damon and a group of producers were discussing a project when producer Effie Brown voiced her reservations about the lack of diversity behind the camera.

Damon replied:

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Brown’s reaction said it all.

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Damon later apologized (kinda) and said he was glad to start a conversation about diversity:

“I believe deeply that there need to be more diverse filmmakers making movies … I am sorry that they offended some people, but, at the very least, I am happy that they started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood. That is an ongoing conversation that we all should be having.”

So, Matt Damon, if diversity is achieved through casting, why did your pal Ben Affleck cast himself as Tony Mendez in Argo?

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Credit: Warner Bros.

In 2012, Affleck played CIA agent Tony Mendez, the central character in Argo. Affleck caught plenty of flak for casting himself, and not a Latino actor, in the role. When asked about the decision to play Mendez, Affleck said:

“You know, I obviously went to Tony and sought his approval…was the first thing. And Tony does not have, I don’t know what you would say, a Latin/Spanish accent, of any kind really, and… you know you wouldn’t necessarily select him out of a line of ten people and go ‘This guy’s Latino.’ So I didn’t feel as though I was violating some thing, where, here’s this guy who’s clearly ethnic in some way and it’s sort of being whitewashed by Ben Affleck the actor. I felt very comfortable that if Tony was cool with it, I was cool with it.”

Ben Affleck isn’t the first white actor to play a Latino in a movie. He probably won’t be the last.

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Credit: Disney

Let’s go back in time… this has been happening for DECADES.

1939: Paul Muni in Juarez

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Credit: Warner Bros.

Muni played Mexican president Benito Juarez in a film that also starred Bette Davis as Carlota of Mexico.

1952: Marlon Brando in Viva Zapata!

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Yeah, that’s Brando playing Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.

1961: Natalie Wood in West Side Story

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Credit: United Artists

Although Puerto Rican actor Rita Moreno won an Oscar for the role of Anita, white actor Natalie Wood played the Puerto Rican character Maria.

1969: Jack Palance in Che! 

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Credit: 2oth Century Fox

Jack Palance, on the right, played Fidel Castro. That’s Omar Sharif as Che Guevara.

1989: Armand Assante in The Mambo Kings

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Credit: Warner Bros.

Assante, an Italian actor, was tasked with playing a Cuban musician named Cesar Castillo.

1993: Ethan Hawke in Alive

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Credit: Buena Vista Pictures

Hawke played Nando Parrado in Alive, the true story of an Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes and were forced to take drastic measures to survive.

1995: Marisa Tomei in The Perez Family

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Credit: The Samuel Goldwyn Company

Tomei played Dorita Evita Perez, a Cuban refugee who makes it to the US in the Mariel boatlift.

1996: Madonna in Evita

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Credit: Buena Vista Pictures

In this musical, Madonna was cast to play Argentine First Lady Eva Perón.

1996: Hank Azaria in The Birdcage

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Azaria played a gay Guatemalan housekeeper named Agador.

2001: Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind

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Credit: Universal Pictures

Connelly played John Nash’s wife, Alicia, who was from El Salvador.

But that only happened in the old days, when there were no Latino actors to choose from, right? WRONG.

2011, Carey Mulligan in Drive

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Credit: FilmDistrict

The character of Irene was written as a young Latina, but director Nicolas Winding Refn cast Carey Mulligan instead. He told The Huffington Post:

“I couldn’t find any actress that would click with me personally. I couldn’t make a decision for some reason. I had all this talent in front of me and out of the blue I get a call from Carey because she wanted to meet me about doing a movie. She came by the house and she walked in and I realized, ‘Oh my God, this is what I was looking for.’ I wanted to protect her … And I knew that was the Driver’s motivation.”

And one more time, for emphasis: Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in 2012’s ARGO.

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Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

So what were you saying about diversity and casting, Matt Damon?

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We’re waiting.

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