Tenoch Huerta Wants To Discuss Colorism: ‘Most Mexican Actors in the US Are White’
Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta is probably most well-known for his role on Netflix’s “Narcos: Mexico,” but knowing his most famous role is the stereotypical Latino drug dealer doesn’t make him very happy.
The self-proclaimed “dark-skinned Mexican” is a talented character actor, with exciting and layered roles in films like “Son of Monarchs,” “Madres” and more. He’s even been tapped to play the villain in MCU’s upcoming “Black Panther” sequel.
But typecasting has plagued the 41-year-old throughout his career, and the roles he’s often least enthusiastic to play are the ones that have ultimately given him the most visibility. In an interview with VICE, Huerta opens up about the frustration that comes with being famous for playing the kinds of characters that Latino actors are hoping to move away from.
“They need thieves, they need kidnappers, they need whores. So they call the Brown-skinned people to make them. And we fit under that stereotype,” Huerta said. “They are always calling me to make the same character. It’s the bad guy — always. But I always make a different version. Because for me, it’s a person. I create a new personality, a new character each time.”
UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report 2022 reveals that for Latinos, mainstream success is still an uphill battle, especially for those who aren’t, as Huerta might call them, “Whitexicans,” the fair-skinned group of Mexican actors like Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal who have found mainstream success in the United States. The study found that only 7% of lead roles went to Latino actors in 2021, based on the top 200 English-language releases. Latinos currently make up 18% of the U.S. population.
Huerta, who calls himself “Prieto Resentido” on Twitter, has not let his platform go to waste.
Born in Mexico City, Huerta started taking acting classes with encouragement from his father, a movie buff. Huerta’s first major role came in 2009 when he starred in Cary Joji Fukanaga’s “Sin Nombre,” a film about Honduran immigrants making their way to the U.S. via train.
Although Huerta has been successful in his attempts to avoid typecasting wherever possible, the spectre of audience expectations and well-worn Hollywood stereotypes still follow him. “Especially for actors like me,” he said. “Because most of the Mexican actors who are in the U.S. are white, they are upper-class, they are fresas.”
The actor is no stranger to online debates, having already hosted a TED Talk on racism, with a series of accompanying videos that expand on it. He also publicly criticized a proposed 950-mile rail line that would go directly through Mexico’s rainforest, in an attempt to attract tourists to “Mayan archaeological sites.”
In the interview, Huerta recalls a moment when he realized just how vast the separation really was between him and his “Whitexican” counterparts, while working on 2007’s “Déficit,” García Bernal’s directorial debut. “I remember the lunch break. I was seated. Most of [the actors] were white. And they were talking about L.A., parties, London, their favorite restaurant, their favorite store, their favorite places, and they asked me, ‘And you?’ And I was like, I have never flown in my life. I have never been in an airplane.”
He points out another moment when asking for tortillas and none were available that served as another reminder of that separation. “It’s stupid, I know. But it’s a cultural thing. Because we have a strong relationship with tortillas and corn. The upper classes — they don’t.”
His big break, however, didn’t come until his role on “Narcos: Mexico,” which presented itself as something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Huerta had finally attained the kind of mainstream success he’d been searching for, but at the cost of sacrificing part of his identity to feel like he belonged. “I had to erase my linguistic identity to fit in the new world that I now [live],” Huerta said in the interview. “If they don’t perceive you as part of them, they don’t accept you.”
The same success that made the Mexican star feel out of place amongst his peers is also the success that has given him a platform to discuss racism and colorism against dark-skinned Mexicans. With more than 135,000 followers on Twitter, Huerta now has a forum to share his opinions, highlight issues that are important to him and connect with fans who might not otherwise be exposed to the kinds of political stances he experiences on a regular basis.
Huerta’s star power will only grow with his recent foray into the MCU, and with it comes the potential to expose even more people to the plight of dark-skinned Mexicans both domestically and in the United States.
“I don’t want to win this game. I don’t want to be a champion of this game. I want to destroy the f—— game,” he proclaimed.