With ‘Deepwater Horizon,’ Gina Rodriguez Is Shaking Up Latina Representation in Hollywood

Photo: Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Lionsgate AP Images

Before she was a Golden Globe winner with a lead role in a critically acclaimed TV series, Gina Rodriguez was a working actor making a name for herself in indie films. But she always dreamed of hitting it big, of getting cast in a Hollywood super-production. At the Toronto Film Festival on Tuesday night, Rodriguez walked down the red carpet for the world premiere of her first-ever role in a big-budget blockbuster.

In Deepwater Horizon, Rodriguez plays Andrea Fleytas, a 23-year-old Latina from San Diego who was one of the few women on board an oil rig off the coast of Florida that burst into flames after a massive gas explosion back in 2010.

Amidst the terrifying chaos after the fire broke out, the chain of command on the rig got murky. No one knew what to do. The gutsy Fleytas didn’t have the authority to make lifesaving decisions but she did it anyway. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, she recalls that no one had made a distress call so she did it herself without a second thought. “Mayday, Mayday. This is Deepwater Horizon. We have an uncontrollable fire.” She was later reprimanded for stepping out of line.

Although she never met the real-life inspiration for her character, Rodriguez studied the audio tapes of Fleytas’ testimony provided for a government investigation into one of the country’s worst environmental disasters in history.

“There is a list of very strong, capable Latina actors that should be in this role.”

After Rodriguez auditioned for the role, she was adamant that whoever was chosen to play the part be a Latina actress. She even went so far as to write to the director pleading her case. “For me it was more important that a Latina was cast in that role. I wrote Pete and I was like: ‘It doesn’t have to be me. It could be Melonie Diaz, Genesis Rodriguez, Natalie Martinez.’ There is a list of very strong, capable Latina actors that should be in this role because Latinos are a backbone of America,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.

The Chi-town Boricua added that she, of course, was elated to play the part but ensuring a Latino presence in this story was her ultimate goal. “It didn’t have to be me – thank God it was – but that’s besides the point. It just had to be represented by that community that seldom gets to see themselves. And it was a part of US history, so it’s like: ‘Don’t take that away!”

In this sprawling edge-of-your-seat thriller, Rodriguez’s rendition of Fleytas is liberated from the traps that Latina characters in Hollywood-produced films fall into over and over again. She’s not dressed in skimpy clothes, she isn’t hot tempered or overtly sexy, and she doesn’t have an accent. She’s an intelligent woman working in a male-dominated industry, a recent grad from maritime school tasked with operating the rig’s navigation machinery. She drives a stick shift, can fix her own car when it breaks down, and in an emergency didn’t wait for the male captain to tell her what to do.

If Rodriguez keeps getting offered these out of the box and complex Latina roles, then keep the Hollywood blockbusters coming. She’ll be shaking up the industry and revolutionizing Latina representation at a theater near you.