Latine representation in Hollywood has skyrocketed in the past few years. From mainstream shows that feature Latine families like One Day At a Time and Jane the Virgin, to animated films that highlight our cultures like Vivo and Encanto, to film adaptations like In the Heights and West Side Story – Latine stories are getting the recognition they deserve.
Actors from our communities have, in turn, become recognizable names. From Pedro Pascal to Zoe Saldaña, to Oscar Isaac, there’s no shortage of well-known actors and even more who are just getting started or are yet to be discovered. This is why it’s been quite a shock that in 2022, there are still Hollywood films that decide to cast Spanish actors to portray Latine characters.
Case in point, The 355; an all-female-led spy-thriller film premiered in theatres. The film follows a group of international spies that team up in order to stop a potential world-altering event and stars Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penélope Cruz, and Diane Kruger. Without any background on the characters, the film sounds like a fun, action-packed, and all-star event where diversity and representation appear to be selling factors.
However, Penélope Cruz, a renowned (and admittedly talented) Spanish actress, plays a Colombian character in the film and gives pause straight away.
At first glance, you might not think this small casting choice deems any further scrutinizing of any kind. She’s an actress playing a character, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal, right? No, it should be a big deal. For a film that bases so much of its story on these women with culturally diverse backgrounds coming together, to cast a Spanish actress comes across as ignorant to the history of Latine people and Colombian culture in particular.
This instance is sadly not the first case where we’ve seen this recently, and it sadly won’t be the last. Late last year, Aaron Sorkin came under fire for casting Spanish actor Javier Bardem to star as Cuban American actor and musician Desi Arnaz in his Amazon Prime film Being the Ricardos. Sorkin made it clear that a Latine consultant at Amazon had suggested the actor and saw no issue with the casting, further commenting that “Spanish and Cuban aren’t actable, OK?”
It’s comments like this that continue to perpetuate the idea that it doesn’t matter what background actors have as long as they can play the role. Furthermore, they solidify this idea that Latine actors and characters are replaceable, even in stories based on real-life and about those in our communities who have had great impacts on us as Latine people. This irresponsible way of thinking ignores who we are and the strides that still need to be made when it comes to representing our stories authentically.
It’s also important to understand that being Spanish and Latine is not the same thing. Yes, we might share the same language and parts of our culture, but they were forced upon us through colonization. And we can’t fully heal and move forward when actors from Spain take on the few roles in Hollywood that tell the stories of those in our communities and the experiences we’ve lived.
Ultimately, it’s about representation. It’s about telling the stories of our families, our loved ones, and those who have shaped us. It’s also about seeing ourselves in the content being produced and marketed to us. Because how can anyone expect us to invest in the latest show or movie about us if they don’t, in turn, invest in us and the Latine actors who have lived these experiences.