Do you hear: Latinos misrepresenting themselves in film and television.
Yet recently, I've noticed a disturbing trend. Indeed, Hollywood is making efforts towards putting more Latinos in front of mainstream media, but are we being authentically represented? I'm not referring to the usual dreck of drug lords, maids and prostitutes. Lately, I am watching characters on film and television clearly defined as being from a specific Latin American country open their mouths and either speak Pocho-guese (slang for broken Spanish mixed with English) or in a completely different accent than what is being called for in the script.
I was streaming an episode of "Nip/Tuck" where a female character was being discussed as being from Venezuela. The character arrives, opens her mouth--it's "Che" this and "Boludo" that ... an Argentinian accent. I'm gonna go on a whim here and assume the writers were probably not Latino. Lines were probably changed on set and required being translated into Spanish on the spot. She, not knowing Venezuelan vernacular but nevertheless fluent and happy to have a job, was given free license to improvise whatever she felt was familiar. Apparently, no one on set heard the difference.
The Hollywood casting process is typically about looks, but as a well-traveled, fluent Spanish speaker, I watch these situations unfold in a show or film and am immediately taken out of the story and consumed by the desire to hurl my remote at the screen.
Does Hollywood not realize we are not all from the same country? If indeed a character is from a specific place, why not attempt to cast the appropriate actor or, if said actor isn't from that country but is fluent, find out if they can be coached into authentically pulling off the accent? After all, just because they are fluent does not mean they can do it. We don't all speak the same Spanish, folks. Think of it this way: not all Americans are Irish. Imagine watching a film like "Rob Roy" or "Hotel Rwanda" with actors speaking in New York or Boston accents. It's jarring to say the least. Just ask the critics who had to sit through Tom Cruise's Irish brogue in "Far And Away".
When it comes to actors, the solution may lie in the casting process. When a script calls for a Latino from a specific country, and said character must speak dialogue, it should then transcend more than just a look.
The casting director who isn't as familiar with the diversity of our culture should make the extra effort to hire an assistant that can tell the difference between a "vos" and an "usted" a "carnal" vs. a "pana." Hey, we don't all know about tripa tacos or that Windex can also be used on cuts and scrapes. We are from all walks of life. If we are to see ourselves reflected on mainstream media, it should come from an authentic place.
This encourages curiosity and pride within the up-and-coming generation who will be exposed to the diversity that makes up our Latino culture.
Recently, I spoke with a known Latino casting director in New York who shared that, thankfully, the demand for bilingual casting assistants has increased because of this very issue: "Most casting directors in the field are either Caucasian or, if Latino, don't really dominate the language. I include myself in that club and now, with the recent increase in Latino projects, I hire fluent bi-lingual assistants to help weed out the actors who speak fluently and could possibly do a neutral or specific accent versus those who claim to be fluent, study the one or two lines from the script really well but when asked to improvise or have a conversation are unable. That's when my assistant steps in and lets myself and the director know this person will not work out."
He goes on to say: "I was recently in a casting session for a dialogue-heavy national Spanish commercial. The director fell in love with an actor. His resume said he spoke fluent Spanish, but as soon as he auditioned my assistant heard a thick Chicano accent. A few questions were asked and my assistant quickly realized he was unable to hold a conversation. The minute he left, we had to break the news. The director was very grateful. You see, if they had hired this actor then decided to change the script on set (which, in commercials, happens all the time) it may have created an embarrassing and costly situation with the client when the actor couldn't deliver."
As Latinos, we're not easily defined. Our diversity should be authentically represented front stage and center. And by the way, after years of living in Texas watching Chespirito and all those Thalia telenovelas, I can confidently pull off a Mexican accent that will knock your sarapes off! If you wear one, that is. Pos, ?que te crees, carnal? iNo contaban con mi astucia! Do I get the part?
Marco Antonio Rodriguez is a New York-based author Actor and playwright. His play, "La Luz de un Cigarillo," was recently published and translated into English.