Sofia Vergara’s joke at the Golden Globes gave us a glimpse of the systemic stereotyping of Latin characters in Hollywood
Do you know the cartel? Do you know how to dance? Do you get angry easily?
These are a few examples of some of the questions a Latinx may be asked whilst residing outside their country of origin. Like other stereotypes, there are numerous exceptions to the rules and norms of what it is to be Latino. Not all of us are illegal immigrants. Not all Latinas are sexy. And not all Latinos have an accent. Yet, the stereotypes persist, and Hollywood has a role to play in perpetuating these generalisations.
One typical Hollywood Latin character that comes to mind is Gloria Pritchett from Modern Family. Sofia Vergara is loved by many in her comic role as a loud and passionate Colombian, and it is always great to see Latin roles on screen. However, after her joke at the Golden Globes this year — in which she poked fun at her own accent, saying “anal” and “anus” instead of “annual” — it is becoming evident that the antics are getting old.
Latin roles have exploded in the past fifteen years, finally reaching roles that do not box them as the stereotypical maid/sex-symbol/macho-man/drug-lord. Examples of ‘unLatino’ roles include Gina Rodriguez’s Jane in Jane the Virgin, Diego Luna as Cassian Andor in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, or Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse in X-men: Apocalypse. The extent to which roles for Latinos have developed can be seen when compared to older films such as Once Upon A Time In Mexico, where each Latin actor is limited to Hollywood’s perception of what it is to be Latino. Although there is still a way to go, Latino actors and actresses are finally allowed to play roles that don’t even reference their heritage, instead focusing on actors’ raw talent.
It is because of this progress that Vergara’s joke at the Golden Globes comes as a disappointment. After seeing her emerge in the English-speaking world thanks to her role in Modern Family, it is sad to have to see her still rely on her accent and Latinness for a few laughs. Vergara is a talented actress and businesswoman who could easily develop her role in Hollywood without losing her popularity. Yet, she still limits herself to playing the role of the stereotypical Latina. Still, at least she’s not playing the role of the maid.
The problem is not so much the actors themselves, but rather the writers, directors, and producers. Of course, it is up to the actors and actresses to accept and decline roles, especially when you are as famous and influential to other Latinos as Vergara is. But there is a problem when the only roles available to Latinos are those that play on the stereotypes. And the more those stereotypical roles are played, the more they keep being produced. It’s a vicious cycle that is slowly being broken with the infiltration of Latinos behind the scenes. Recent examples include directors Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant) and Pablo Larrain (Jackie). Both have presented Oscar-worthy films not categorised in “Best Foreign-Language Film”.
By increasing the participation of Latinos behind the scenes, we are battling ignorance. For, at the end of the day, the lack of roles available to Latinos is because of writers’ and producers’ ignorance. If you have a room full of WASP writers who are told to write a film that includes minorities, it is likely that a few of these roles will adhere to stereotypes, as it is what is most recognizable to these writers.
If you grew up in an environment where the films you watched, and later participated in, only show Latinos as two-dimensional characters that follow Hollywood’s expectations of what a Latinx is, then you are bound to end up writing a film or two that exploit that stereotype. However, by getting not only Latinos, but all minorities in the USA involved in the process of writing, we may be able to grow the volume of films in which where a Latino is not either a gardener or a player, a black woman isn’t sassy, and a gay man isn’t feminised. Only then can we offer not only a variety of roles to minorities which won’t force them into playing a stereotype, but also an alternative view of minorities that won’t lead to the repetition of stereotypes.
This is not an article condemning Vergara for having an accent, being loud, or being good-looking. Everyone is free to create their own image. It may just be that Vergara is coincidentally everything Hollywood expects a Latina to be. But continuously playing on that stereotype does Latinos everywhere no favours. And being such a representative in an under-represented group, Vergara has a responsibility to show other aspects of what it is to be a Latino. Alone, it is almost impossible to break down Hollywood’s barriers. But by participating alongside other Latin actors in getting rid of stereotypes, Vergara would be opening more doors to future Latin actors/actresses, rather than keeping them shut.