We’ve seen our fair share of Latin American actors break into the ranks of Hollywood’s A-list – from go-to Latin lovers like Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, to Brazilian bombshells like Sonia Braga and Carmen Miranda. But it’s fair to say that most of these stars fall into a pretty limited notion of what Latinos can look like: dark enough to be exotic, white enough not to offend “mainstream” sensibilities.
But since indigenous Maya actress María Mercedes Coroy was tapped for the upcoming Paul Weitz film Bel Canto, it seems Hollywood’s traditional crossover standards have been shaken up in a big way. According to sources, the breakout star of Guatemala’s arthouse phenomenon Ixcanul (Volcano) has been cast in the role of Carmen for the upcoming adaptation of Ann Patchett’s critically acclaimed 2001 novel of the same name.
Based on the 1996 Japanese embassy hostage crisis in Lima, Bel Canto tells the story of an American opera singer who gets swept up in a months-long hostage crisis after radical terrorists storm a posh embassy gathering in an unnamed South American country. While we have few details on the film itself – other than the fact that Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe have been confirmed in the lead roles – we do know that Carmen was one of the principal characters in Patchett’s novel.
Alongside Coroy, Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta has also been cast as one of the Marxist guerrillas. Known for a number of high-profile roles in Mexico’s independent film industry, Huerta’s conspicuously dark skin is a rarity in Mexican media, and it was even employed to thematic ends in the ironically titled 2014 festival darling Güeros.
Granted, 20 years on from the actual historical event, it’s a little hard to pass this story off as a reflection of contemporary South American reality. But while it seems to flirt dangerously with antiquated political stereotypes, we do know that Pratchett used the extended standoff to delve into the common humanity of both parties. We’ll just have to wait and see exactly what that means.
Of course, casting a handful of dark-skinned and indigenous Latin American actors as revolutionary terrorists opens up a whole can of representational worms, but it may also open the door to a new, and far more diverse generation of Latin American actors in the Hollywood dream factory. But before we rush to credit Weitz – whose grandmother was Oaxaca-born actress Lupita Tovar – for this big gesture, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize the groundbreaking films of directors like Jayro Bustamante of Ixcanul (Volcano) who are bravely shaking up representation in their own countries.