Why aren't more Latino actors getting face time?
Miami hasn’t been this hot since Crockett and Tubbs rocked their pastel suits and sockless loafers. Over the past few months, there were no fewer than three major films shooting in South Florida: the Denzel Washington thriller ”Out of Time,” ”The Fast and the Furious 2,” and ”Bad Boys 2,” starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Not to mention NBC’s ”Good Morning, Miami” and CBS’ ”CSI: Miami,” two new shows set there.
Given that nearly 60 percent of Miami’s population is Hispanic, you’d think it would be a great time for the ethnic group in showbiz. After all, Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S., numbering more than 35 million people. But there aren’t all that many Hispanic characters on screen — despite movies and TV series set in Latino-dominated locales.
At last July’s Television Critics Association press tour, controversy erupted over the dearth of Latino characters on shows like ”CSI: Miami.” The spin-off includes only one Hispanic regular, ”Roswell” alum Adam Rodriguez. And while David Caruso’s lead role was written for a Latino, the show’s casting went in another, whiter direction. ”We want to be as authentic as possible,” says cocreator Anthony Zuiker, who promises many Hispanic actors in guest-starring roles. ”But in terms of quotas, we wanted to hire the best actors.”
True, Latino-themed programming on TV has increased over the last few years. ABC’s ”George Lopez” is now in its second season, while The WB just launched ”Greetings From Tucson,” a sitcom centering on a Mexican-Irish family. Though PBS isn’t planning on producing any more episodes of ”American Family,” which debuted this year, the Showtime drama ”Resurrection Blvd.” wrapped its third year and is awaiting word on its renewal.
In film, indie distributors have awakened to the crossover potential of Latin-flavored movies like Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron’s teen road movie ”Y Tu Mama Tambien,” which grossed an unexpected $13.6 million this year, and the Sundance hit ”Real Women Have Curves,” which will be marketed as a Latino ”My Big Fat Greek Wedding” when Newmarket releases it Oct. 18. ”Hollywood is waking up to [Latino power] the way corporate America woke up to it,” says Rodriguez, who is half Puerto Rican, half Cuban.
But some actors don’t feel they’re living la vida loca just yet. ”I had to fight my way in: I begged,” says ”Resurrection”’s Michael DeLorenzo, who played Eddie Torres (a part originally written for an African American) on Fox’s ”New York Undercover” from 1994 to 1997. ”The key is using your power and your name to bring in other people…. I don’t think Latino stars do that enough, whereas in the African-American community they’re constantly cross-promoting each other.”
The dilemma extends behind the camera as well. Though producers of ”Resurrection” estimate they’ve employed hundreds of Latino actors and crew during the show’s run, Showtime exec Pancho Mansfield says diversity among mainstream Hollywood decision-makers is far off. ”In this business people tend to hire people who they are comfortable with,” he says. ”People will say that it’s nepotism and it’s negative, but it’s also natural.”