As Hollywood continues to attempt to increase the amount of diversity in the moviemaking industry, at least one director is wondering why it’s taken so long to make meaningful progress. Director Robert Rodriguez has been doing it himself since he broke into the business 29 years ago with his first wide-release feature Desperado.
Since then, Rodriguez has tried to do the best he can to hire Latino talent for the movies he’s made at Troublemaker Studios in Austin, Texas. In 17 feature films, he’s cast the likes of Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Eva Mendes, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, and Benicio del Toro, just to name a few.
“When I went out to make Desperado, no one was writing or directing roles [for Latinos],” Rodriguez told Remezcla last week. “It was a systemic problem. I thought, ‘If I want to make these kinds of movies, I’m going to have to create my own star system.’ To change the representation, you have to do it yourself.”
In his newest sci-fi film Alita: Battle Angel, which is based off Japanese manga, Rodriguez has added someone new to his cast of regulars. Playing the titular role in Alita is Peruvian-American actress Rosa Salazar, who performed her role via motion-capture technology.
Alita is a disembodied teenage cyborg who is discovered in a scrapyard in the year 2563 and pieced back together by Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). When hired assassins are sent to destroy her, Alita learns her past is much more complex than she could have imagined.
As an actress representing Latinas on such a huge stage, Salazar wants to become one of the strong Latina women she connected with when she watched Rodriguez’s earlier movies growing up.
“He was elevating these women’s careers,” Salazar told Remezcla last year. “He was directing girls that looked like me. When I got to work with him, it was breathtaking because he empowered me the way he had so many others. He hears your voice.”
As Rodriguez continues to champion Latinas like Salazar and actress Eiza González in Alita and a host of others on past TV projects like From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, Matador and Lucha Underground, Salazar feels honored to have worked with someone who is making a difference.
“Robert has had a lot of time to uplift Latin women,” Salazar said. “It’s something we’re in desperate need of. [Latinos] make up a quarter of the people who actually see movies, so it’s important for us to see ourselves up there on screen.”
In the future, Salazar hopes the “uncommon” opportunity she had playing the main role in Alita will lead to more unique experiences in all aspects of filmmaking.
“I want to be on all sides of the camera,” Salazar said. “I want to be behind it. I want to produce. Alita really pushed my limits.