Hollywood has come a long way since its, The Birth of a Nation (1915), days. Most folks think the industry should be commended for that, I on the other hand, DO NOT. You will never get rewarded or handed a cookie for showcasing what the world actually looks and sounds like. Now, that does not mean I am not grateful, because I most certainly am happy that we as a collective have made strides in the world of film & television. But, as always there is still some work to be done, and it starts with casting.
Before we dive into my personal experiences as an African-American & Afro-Latino/Caribbean actor, with the roles I audition for and the roles I try to get auditions for. Let’s talk about what these words mean and their common misunderstandings: Latino/a, Latinx & Hispanic.
● Latino/Latina — A person of Latin American origin (regardless of race), including Brazil. But, excludes Spain.
● Latinx — A gender-neutral term for someone of Latin American origin, regardless of race.
● Hispanic — A person who descends from a Spanish-speaking country. Also, regardless of race.
Simple, right? Unfortunately, these ethnic terms seem to always get convoluted in day to day relations. Especially in entertainment, where I’ve tried or better yet, my talent reps have tried to get me in the door for Latinx or Afro-Latinx roles. And of course, I’m sometimes reminded, “They’re looking for full Spanish…” *sighs* Whew child, that don’t make a bit of sense. But I won’t read you in this very moment.
Often times people say, “You don’t look Hispanic — wait, I see it now,” or they say, “But, you don’t look like the other Mexicans,” or my favorite, “Ohhh, so you’re not Black, BLACK,” *rolls eyes* or they put me through the ringer and love to test my Spanish.
By the way, none of these actually make sense, but ignorance is bliss and I see where they are going. So, let me break it down even further, vamanos! What the majority really means, is that they’re comparing the people like myself to the “Mestizos”. Mestizo is an old colonial term, the Spanish would use to describe someone who is of Indigenous (Native American) and European descent, particularly Spanish. Which for those of you who don’t know, European Spaniards are White. Europe is still Europe. Language and national origin don’t change your race, sis. Let’s dive in, shall we.
During the Transatlantic Slave trade and Colonial Era, when some of the European countries decided to enslave Africans (*Over 90% were sent to Latin America/Caribbean and about 5–6% to the U.S., to be exact) and oppress the Indigenous Americans — often times they forced themselves onto these disenfranchised groups and created offspring, mostly through rape. Occasionally through choice. But, when the Spanish and the Native Americans mixed, they created what most people assume all Latinx people look like, the Mestizos. When the Spanish and the Africans mixed, the Mulatto term was born. And so on and so forth, the caste systems in Latin America, let alone in Mexico are endless and honestly…disturbing.
All depending on hair texture, skin color, phenotype etc. But, at the end of the day if they were born in Latin America or have ancestral origins there, they are Latinx, and that doesn’t take away from their race either. Period! As you can see, the United States isn’t the only one obsessed with race as many like to proclaim.
What people fail to realize is that, not all of us are mixed race. Some people in the Latinx and Hispanic community are straight up Blackity-Black, some are Asian, some are White, some are Native American, some are of Middle Eastern descent and some are mixed race. Unfortunately, the American media and Latin American media (esp. Telenovelas) continue to push these white-washed narratives. Not all of us are white, light or fair-skinned. And casting directors, producers and writers are responsible for this.
“Not all Latinas look like J.Lo or Sofia Vergara or Shakira. So where are the women who look like myself?” – Amara La Negra
I couldn’t agree more with these Black Queens.
There are racial groups within these communities and that needs to be understood…BY EVERYONE. These colorist and sometimes racist narratives don’t just come from non-Latinx people, they are also perpetuated from within the community. Yep, I said it.
There is a huge lack of education and awareness of who we are. Often, nationality and language are many Latinx signifiers, which is understandable — but it doesn’t exclude us from race. Hispanic and Latinx are not races, they are ethnicities (common language, nationality, culture etc.). And low-key, mi gente, we know it. As color-blind as a lot of us act — if we didn’t know it, then why do many of us say, moreno, blancita, guerra, trigueno, flancita. We may share the same language and historical oppressor(s), but we still look different and come in various shades, and it’s important to recognize that in film. BTW, Black is not synonymous with being American — we exist everywhere.
Folks love to act color-blind until it’s time to cast a role or want to see what color the newborn baby is gonna be…but I’m going to sip my tea.
The solution to this problem is simple. Well, in terms of casting anyway, audition people who are Latinx, regardless of their race or phenotype. That Black actor who submitted for a Latinx role on Actors Access, who you think is from the States, might in fact be from Panama or Mexico. That White actress who you think is from California, might in fact be from Chile or Spain. That Asian actress who you think is from Korea, might in fact be from Puerto Rico or Venezuela…Or they could all be from the U.S. and have ancestral roots to Spain and/or Latin America or maybe not. Point is, change the narrative of who is and who gets to be Latinx/Hispanic in your p*nche eyes. Some of them may speak fluent Spanish or Portuguese and some may not, but that does not invalidate their identities or take away their roots, and you will not know until you ask, or they tell you.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve submitted for Afro-Latino or Latinx roles and still barely get an audition. And when I do, I savor it…because the sad truth is the Latinx actors these films and shows are looking for, are not Black folks like me, and that’s what is tragic. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely need mestizx representation, and sometimes not even my brown brothers & sisters get their chance in the room. However, Afro-Latino representation is far less.“A minority within a minority.” As Ilia Calderón, an Afro-Colombian journalist for Univision pointed out in a interview with NBC.
In the New York market, it was much more “believable” for me to be Hispanic. Typically, I would get sent out for Black American, Dominican or Cuban roles. But now that I reside in Los Angeles— it’s almost as if casting ignores me and people who look like me when it comes time to audition people for Latinx roles.
Now I do recognize my privilege in this, in comparison to my darker skinned Afro-Latinx brothas & sistas, since some people view me as “exotic” or “ethnically ambiguous”, which unfortunately can get me further in the room.
This is a nuanced conversation and I’m aware that not all Latinx people are Black, so some roles I can understand why I’m not chosen to audition. And some roles require fluent Spanish, which I respect. So, my reps know not to submit me for those roles because I am not fluent. However, I urge producers and casting directors to showcase the ENTIRETY of the Latinx community because casting the Afro-Latino, who barely looks Black ain’t it, sis. Being Black and Latino are not mutually exclusive, those identities often due, co-exist. I have made it my personal duty as a screenwriter, when writing roles, particularly for Latinx characters — I make them Black or Brown, and typically describe them as dark-brown or dark-skinned. Of course, it doesn’t just stop there, but casting directors and producers will have no choice but to adhere to these character descriptions. And only then, will I have a good*mn evening.
“If you want to be heard, you have to somewhat be a disturbance at times.” -Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf