Maybe muscly guys in souped up Japanese sports cars isn’t your thing. And hey, we respect that, but you can’t deny that on the whole we Latinos are locos for racing movies. Just look at the numbers: 2013’s Fast and Furious 6 had a domestic audience that clocked in at a jaw-dropping 32% Latino. That’s about twice our percentage of the U.S. population as a whole. Take that in for a minute.
Of course, the film’s producers caught on to this trend pretty early on in the franchise’s 14-year run and effectively stacked subsequent installments with with more Latino actors than the original cast of West Side Story, but the appeal has been there since day one. Now what exactly it is about the mix between feisty, overtly-sexualized women and street racing that gets the Latino market so damn worked up is a study better left to sociologists, but on the eve of Furious 7’s somewhat bittersweet nationwide release, we’ve decided to take a look back at the Latino actors and musicians who have made one the United States’ most enduring modern film franchises a veritable gas-guzzling catwalk of Latino talent.
Naturally, the original The Fast and The Furious’ SoCal setting required the presence of at least one stereotypical vato loco alongside the Vietnamese gangsters; burly, ethnically-ambiguous drag racers; and swaying palm trees that make L.A. so special. In this case it was a goateed cholo race organizer named Hector, played by Noel Gugliemi. But we all know that the real star of the film was homegirl Michelle Rodriguez, whose turn as the skilled, independent minded, tough-as-nails Leticia Ortiz gave Latina tomboys the world over an enduring icon of cinematic empowerment. As one of the franchise’s most recognizable faces, Rodriguez made subsequent appearances in Fast & Furious 4, 6 and the upcoming Furious 7.
But when Rodriguez wasn’t around to crank ratchets (the tool, that is) and chillar goma she had a pretty worthy alternate in Cubana-Americana beauty icon Eva Mendes, who played U.S. Customs Service agent Monica Fuentes in 2 Fast 2 Furious, followed by a brief appearance in Fast Five. Then there’s the Brooklyn Boricua John Ortiz’s drug smuggling Arturo Braga and his henchman Fenix Calderón, played by D.C.-born Cubano Laz Alonso.
And how could we forget the soundtrack? After initially tending toward a more Billboard Top 40 urban contemporary vibe, with artists like Ja Rule, Fat Joe, and Faith Evans laying down some attitudinous tracks for the original The Fast and The Furious, the franchise’s producers ended up regaling their beloved Latino market with a soundtrack worthy of a Honda Civic night cruising down Bushwick Avenue, with the likes of Pitbull, Don Omar, and Tego Calderón working as veritable house musicians on the soundtrack to Fast & Furious (4). But they didn’t stop there, giving Don Omar and Tego cameo roles as “Rico Santos” and “Leo Tego,” members of Dominic Toretto’s new crew of high-speed highway men. While the reggaetón icons didn’t exactly blow up into Hollywood superstardom following their appearance, Omar and Calderón apparently made enough of an impression to be invited back for slightly meatier roles in Fast Five. In the 7th installment, we get a glimpse of the “so nasty” bachatero, Romeo Santos and the Furious stalwart Jordana Brewster. The Brazilian-American actress has had a role in 5 of the 7 movies.
Admittedly, it’s a little hard to keep track of so many gosh darn sequels, but we’ve got to give it up to the brains behind The Fast and The Furious for sticking to what they do best while continually finding ways to keep the franchise fresh and exciting for Latinos and the world at large. No other films of this generation have been able to so effectively carry on the tradition of the Hollywood B-movie while showcasing some of the best talent Latino USA has to offer. With the future of the franchise in the balance following Paul Walker’s tragic passing last year, we can still rest assured that The Fast and The Furious will be remembered years from now as an era-defining cultural phenomenon.
Furious 7 opens in theaters nationwide on April 3, 2015.
Ed. Note: We picked highlights of the franchise’s Latino cast. For a detailed breakdown of actors with Latino/Hispanic heritage, check out El Blog de HOLA (Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors.)