Latin myths helped pave the way in Hollywood, but the road is still rocky


John Leguizamo (left), Rita Moreno, Dolores del Rio, Katie Jurado, Edward James Olmos and Ariana Debos (top) are Hollywood legends.

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John Leguizamo (left), Rita Moreno, Dolores del Rio, Katie Jurado, Edward James Olmos and Ariana Debos (top) are Hollywood legends.

Mike Gallegos for NPR

Latinos have been a part of Hollywood since the silent film era. But they are still underrepresented in front of and behind the cameras. UCLA’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and the latest UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report show that Hispanic actors only make 7% of leading films.

In the early days of cinema and to this day, Anglo actors played the so-called Spanish roles, sometimes brown-faced. Latinos are often used as background extras, arguing with horses for Western images, says Laura Isabel Serna, a professor at the University of Southern California. Luis Reyes, author of a new book called FIFA Hollywoodsays Latin actors who have had speaker parts starred in vulgar roles.

“You know, the stereotypes: Oh, you’re Latino? You’re going to play bandido,” Reyes says. “There was a guy who played Bandido often and he wore his own costume. It was about making a living.” I had black hair, and I look dark. Did you want me to be a Cantina girl? Not a problem. “


Ramon Novaro, circa 1930s

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Ramon Novaro, circa 1930s

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Hollywood superstars Ramon Navarro and second cousin Dolores del Rio made their debut in silent pictures and were promoted as “Latin Lovers”. Both came from influential aristocratic families in Mexico. The Navarro family moved to Los Angeles to escape the Mexican Revolution in 1913. He went from being an auxiliary member to starring in a silent film in 1925. Ben-Hur: The Story of Christ. Among his successes is the 1931 film Sun With Greta Garbo.

Dolores del Rio was also recruited in Hollywood to be a sex symbol. Her famous friends, Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich have reportedly considered her the most beautiful woman in Hollywood. Del Rio starred in silent films such as high stepperAnd the colleagues first And the Ramona. When he took over the pictures, she was also successful, having proven her singing ability.


Dolores del Rio, circa 1935

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Dolores del Rio, circa 1935

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“She was seen as a strange woman,” says Cynthia Breda Bravo, Consul for Cultural Affairs at the Consulate General of Mexico. “She played a very sophisticated European woman and she played an indigenous woman. She was so self-confident. That’s why we still celebrate her almost a hundred years later.”

Serna also explains Del Rio’s allure in Hollywood. “It’s weird looking, but it’s not particularly dark. I think that suits the studios, as she continues to work for studios today. So she was portrayed as very ‘tolerable’. And she was very adamant that she didn’t want to play roles that she considered stereotypical.”


Actress Lupe Vélez, circa 1931

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Actress Lupe Vélez, circa 1931

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There were other metaphors in use at the time, and even now. For comedic effect, there was a Latin “hot, fast-talking, hot wild cat”. Actress Lupe Vélez, better known as Lupe “Tabasco” Vélez, starred in no fewer than eight Mexican Spitfire films in the 1930s and 1940s.

Then there were the dead female leaders not described as Hispanic. Rita Hayworth, born Margarita Carmen Cancino, her father is from Spain, and Raquel Welch, born Joe Raquel Tejada, his father is Bolivian.

“Everyone changed their names in those days,” says Reyes. He adds that the studios may have had spoof names to appeal to white audiences, but that doesn’t mean the actors were ashamed of their heritage. And some, like Del Rio, have gone back to their roots. In the 1940s, she helped launch the golden age of cinema in Mexico. One of her most famous films was Maria Candelariathe first Mexican film to be shown at the Cannes International Film Festival, and abandonedfor which she won the Ariel Award, the Mexican equivalent of the Academy Award.

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But in Hollywood, it took years for the Academy Awards to award the first Oscar to a Latin actor. Puerto Rican Jose Ferrer was given the role of adventurer, swordsman and poet in the 1950 film Cyrano de Bergerac. Two years later, Mexican-American actor Anthony Quinn won his first Oscar Long live Zapata!

Actor Edward James Olmos credits Academy Award winners Ferrer and Quinn for paving the way for later generations to play serious non-Hispanic roles.

However, like those who preceded him, Olmos says he was often cast in cliched roles, but says that doesn’t mean he played them “stereotyped”.

He says that the head of the casting team at MGM asked him to change his name. So he did, from Eddie Olmos to Edward James Olmos.

“I’m a Latin actor and I’m proud of that,” Olmos says. “I said no to more things than I said yes. I intended to tell stories about myself and my culture.”


Edward James Olmos at the Hollywood Roosevelt earlier this year.

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Edward James Olmos at the Hollywood Roosevelt earlier this year.

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The East Los Angeles-born actor has starred in some of Chicano’s most famous films, including zote suitAnd the Gregorio Cortez songAnd the Stand and deliver And the selena. In 1997, he helped found the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival to showcase the work of Latino and Latino creators. He also helped start a youth cinema project for children from fourth grade through college.

Prior to that, in 1962, Rita Moreno was the first Latina actress to win an Oscar for her role as Kanita in the 1961 film. West side story.

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Moreno was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York and in Hollywood she played many of what she called “Conchita Lolita” in generic Latin or ethnic roles.

“I’ve never been able to do a role without having some kind of accent,” she told NPR in 2011, adding that even for the musical Nuyorican West side story There were challenges. “We all had to wear makeup in one color, very dark. And I remember asking the makeup guy with real annoyance, why doesn’t makeup match our different skin tones because Hispanics are so different — and some of us are so fair.”

Moreno says it took years to get another good role after the Oscar. But she persevered, working on television and on stage. And now, at the age of ninety, Rita Moreno continues to act in Hollywood. It was last year West side story Remake, where newcomer Ariana DeBose played Anita.

DeBose made history at this year’s Academy Awards, accepting an Oscar.

“You see a gay, extroverted, coloured, Afro-Latin woman who has found her strength in life through art, and that’s what I think we’re here to celebrate,” DeBose said on stage.


Rita Moreno and Ariana Debus attend the 94th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood.

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Rita Moreno and Ariana Debus attend the 94th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood.

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Actor John Leguizamo was also on stage at this year’s Oscar celebration, which included an all-Latin performance from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s animated musical. Charm.

“All these beautiful Latin faces, We had a great acting tonightBefore reminding the audience of the legend that the Oscar statuette was modeled after Emilio “El Indio” Fernandez in 1928.

For years, Leguizamo has been complaining about Hollywood’s limited opportunities for Hispanic actors and stories. He recently shared his outrage on social media when film producers chose white actor James Franco to play Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

“I grew up in an age where Latinos couldn’t play Latinos in movies, Charlton Heston played a Mexican, Pacino played Cubans and Puerto Ricans,” Leguizamo said on Instagram. “They asked you to change your name. Stay out of the sun, because only white Latinos or only white Latinos will get jobs. I’ve been told so many times that you can’t have two Latinos in a movie, otherwise, people think it’s a Latin movie, you know how Whatever. So no, don’t you have our stories? No, no more than that. I’m done with that.”

This story is part of the five-part series Latinos in Hollywood, which pays homage to some of the legends and pioneers in the film industry and examines how some Latin actors, composers, and directors have gained or created more opportunities.


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