Since Catherine Zeta-Jones landed the role of Griselda Blanco in Cocaine Godmother, many have questioned why a Welsh actress is portraying someone from Colombia. As it stands, portrayals of Latinos on TV and film are both scarce and stereotypical. As a matter of fact, in the last decade, Latinos have only represented a measly 3 percent of speaking roles. Just before the movie premiered on Lifetime on January 20, Zeta-Jones addressed her decision to portray a person of another ethnicity, and her response isn’t great.
“This is just the way I see it, and people can take what they want from it: I am a Welsh actress, who doesn’t happen to look like what you think someone from Wales should look like,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “I have my own language; I speak Welsh. And so, for me to wait for a role that is fit for the way I look physically, that is not a Welsh role, where I don’t use my accent – I never use my accent. Have you ever heard me use my accent that I’m speaking with right now?”
She continued by stating that she has played three Hispanic characters, including the lead in Zorro. “I screen-tested with six Hispanic women, and I got the role,” she added. “I don’t know what to say. And I was a complete unknown at this point; it wasn’t because I had a name or box-office value. Four of the actresses are my contemporaries to this day. I played a woman of Spanish descent in Traffic as well. I have to take [the roles] I believe I can embody. I can’t be the person to fight against a very big issue, and I won’t take on that role. There have been so many actors who have played ‘against type.’ That’s sort of what we do.”
But what she doesn’t seem to understand is that Latino isn’t a “type” of character someone can just embody on screen. It’s an identity that’s often misrepresented and prone to clichés in the media. Additionally, taking on this role means taking a job away from a Latino or Latin American actor, a segment of the US population that is underrepresented in the industry. As a white woman, she already has so many more avenues available to her, even though she doesn’t get the opportunity to portray Welsh characters (which is unfortunate). And of course fixing this issue shouldn’t rest solely on one person, but she can do her part to combat the whitewashing that’s so persistent in Hollywood by not playing characters of other ethnicities or races.