If there is one unifying characteristic amongst successful artists perhaps it would be an almost messianic sense of conviction, the idea that one has been called to fulfill a mission, a sense of predestination. Guatemalan-American actor Tony Revolori (born Anthony Quiñonez) is no exception. In the year since his breakout role as a young Zero Mustafa in Wes Anderson’s Oscar-winning The Grand Budapest Hotel, the 19-year-old Orange County native has booked more feature film roles than he had in ten years hustling castings, short films, and TV movies. In effect, the young actor has “made it.”
But while Revolori may be ecstatic about his nascent success, he is certainly not surprised. “I knew that I was going to be a fantastic actor, I dreamt of it,” he admitted to Remezcla in a recent interview, “Now I’m so happy that it’s finally happening.” Indeed, this summer will mark the release of his big screen follow up to The Grand Budapest Hotel, and if mismanaged careers are the greatest threat to a burgeoning actor’s longevity, we don’t have to worry too much about young Mr. Revolori. Why? Because that film is director Rick Famuyiwa’s fifth feature, Dope.
Dope is not necessarily about inner city ills: it is a stylish, upbeat teen comedy that happens to take place in the inner city.
Every once in a while a film comes along that turns our cultural assumptions on their head and leaves an indelible imprint on our collective consciousness; with Dope we are undoubtedly in the presence of one of those films. But it’s not that Famuyiwa has set out to make a movie with all the self-conscious trappings of a generational touchstone — though Dope will certainly be just that — but rather that Famuyiwa has set out to be authentic — with regards to his own experience, and to that of millions of Americans living in the inner city.
Simply put, Dope is free of all the accumulated clichés surrounding our representations of inner city crime and poverty. Like the early 90s urban dramas it pays homage to — from Boyz n the Hood to Menace II Society — Dope is full of gang violence, weapons, drugs, and economic hardship, but they are not obsessively underlined as they may have been a generation ago. They are treated as mere facts of life and are dealt with as such, because at its heart Dope is not necessarily about inner city ills: it is a stylish, upbeat teen comedy that happens to take place in the inner city.
It is a diverse, multicultural tapestry where black and brown, gay and straight come together seamlessly through shared experience.
And unlike the South Central of early-90s Hollywood, Famuyiwa’s Inglewood is not a hermetic world of African-American males. It is a diverse, multicultural tapestry where black and brown, gay and straight come together seamlessly through shared experience. It is telling that Revolori’s character, an ambiguous Latino named Jib, is allowed to use the “N” word unproblematically with his friends, while a white college student from the suburbs is quickly shot down by the same clique.
Indeed, Dope is unequivocally not a “black” film, but rather an urban film for a 21st century reality in which the internet and social media transcend neighborhood boundaries; where a summer at band camp can lead to friendships that transcend race and social class; where young rappers are more likely to be throwback record collectors than macho drug slingers, and girls are attracted to nice guys rather than blinged-out gangbangers (well some, at least). For these reasons, Dope is quietly, unpretentiously revolutionary.
“That’s what I love about Oscar Isaac, he’s not trying to say he’s the face of breaking the mold, he’s just doing it by example.”
But don’t think Revolori meditated much on the greater cultural impact of this film. In the end he is an actor with a job to do, and as he explained to Remezcla, his mission was merely to do the best that he could with the material. It didn’t hurt of course, that both Forest Whitacker and Pharrell were signed on as Executive Producers to give the sense that something was going very right with this project.
In the end, it’s an appropriate addition to Revolori’s filmography. Even at this stage of his young career, Revolori is conscious that he is breaking the mold for Latino actors in the U.S., much like Dope has broken the mold for urban representation. Not only was his role in The Grand Budapest Hotel that of a Middle Eastern bellhop, but Revolori went so far as to play a South Asian migrant desperate to make it to America in the 2015 Indian film Umrika.
Revolori is quietly, unpretentiously revolutionizing what it means to be a Latino actor in Hollywood.
If anything, his career is indicative of a new era of ethnic flexibility for Latino actors, exemplified by the recently consecrated Cuban-Guatemalan actor Oscar Isaac. And, indeed, the comparison is not entirely coincidental — upon the mere mention of Isaac there is a noted shift in the timbre of Revolori’s voice, he begins to speak faster, overflowing with enthusiasm. Not only is he a fan, but he sees clear parallels between their careers as Latinos in the belly of the Hollywood behemoth.
“There’s nothing we can do about what Hollywood thinks right now, but we’ve got to do the best we can,” he confided, “That’s what I love about Oscar Isaac, he’s not trying to say he’s the face of breaking the mold, he’s just doing it by example. And by that turn we’re all going to be able to do it by example.”
So did Revolori take a tip from Isaac in “neutralizing” his Hispanic last name? Evidently not. “Guatemala, where I still have a lot of family, is not exactly the safest place,” was his response to our inquiry. He went on to explain that in taking his paternal Grandmother’s last name — Revolori — not only was he able to honor her, but also to protect his family from extortion back in Guatemala. It’s an ambivalent testament to the complex reality faced by Latino actors in this country: some might feel pressure to change their names for professional opportunity stateside, others to protect their loved ones back in the often violent realities from which their families came.
But whatever last name he may take on, it is clear that Revolori is quietly, unpretentiously revolutionizing what it means to be a Latino actor in Hollywood. Call Dope his mission statement.