Hollywood needs to unlearn what it's learned about Latinos

[Fade up from black]

I'm running through Sky Harbor Airport. I drop my suitcases. Tense music pounds. Quick shots cut from uniformed guards dodging women and children on their way to Hawaii. Cut to me, cornered in Terminal 4. Guns draw. My hands go up in the air. I surrender. To the migra! I'm cuffed, frisked and hog-tied. Heavy breathing.

[Fade to black]

Imagine a movie like that. Can you see me in it? I almost was, playing the role of the undocumented worker breathlessly escaping from Homeland Security!

That's one of the best roles up for grabs in Brown Town in recent memory.

For the first time in a long time (perhaps ever), there are roles, albeit just a handful, for Latino actors in the Valley, because of a tiny tidal wave of productions setting up camp in Arizona. As a mocha-tinged thespian, you'd think I'd be thrilled.

I am.

But I'm not.

A few years ago, the Arizona Legislature approved a tax-credit package to lure filmmakers to the Valley. For movie moguls and TV commercial producers on shoestring budgets, that's kind of a big deal. If production teams choose to film their latest car ad, independent flick, or 30-second spot for sugary cereal here, they can save a lot of cash compared with what the same production would cost in California or New York.

The catch is that they must cast and crew locally. Not entirely, but the majority must be Arizona talent.

The kickass part is that we have that talent, and then some. Don't ever let anyone tell you we don't. We should have absolutely no penis envy of LA. Our creative bulge is impressive.

You may not realize it, but here in metro Phoenix there are talented cinematographers, lighting guys, grips, gaffers, production assistants, actors, stuntmen and women, voice-over specialists, wardrobe folk, makeup masters, stylists, agents, and craft-services trucks galore.

But here's the deal. We need to help Hollywood, and even local production companies, unlearn what they've learned about Latinos.

I've been a local actor here since I was a kid. My sister and I made our Valley stage debuts at Phoenix Symphony Hall. She played a clock. I played a yellow chicken in a 1970-something Arizona Opera production.

Since those tragic times, I've played tons of different, diverse, and interesting roles — mainly because I have the best agent in town. But even she can't control the stupidity of the industry. Don't even get me started on the day, not too long ago, when I had a morning audition with a casting agent who told me I needed to be more cholo, and then the same-day afternoon audition in which another agent wished I was just a bit less Latin-looking.

Then there was the time I showed up for a voice-over audition for anti-Latino immigrant, anti-gay radio PSAs. Um, I guess they didn't see my big, brown Badonkadonk walking through their glass-doored Scottsdale front offices.

That said, as Hollywood starts to come a-knockin,' we should be aware of staying in true character.

Yes, like any well-rounded community, we have our share of criminals, sexpots, and servants. But we also have lawyers, doctors, artists, and insurance agents. From the decadent and dangerous to the downright drab, we should look like that onscreen.

God, please let us be boring onscreen for once! Why don't we offer something totally, totally, totally unremarkable? Let us be just a person sitting at a desk wondering what we should do for dinner. I want to sit in a movie theater and see some guy studying in the library onscreen while a pretty girl or boy walks by and cracks a smile while cheesy music plays in the background. Why do we need props — guns in our brown hands, slicked-back hair with suitcases full of dope, saucy accents, beautiful breasts — to show up onstage or onscreen?

Is this what white people think of us? Right on. Me, too. But there's so much more.

 
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