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Al Pacino is my favorite Latino actor

Scarface is perhaps the most overrated movie in the past thirty years. I realize that this one statement will put me on the virtual stake of thousands of hip-hop heads and young/older boys/men who can recite nearly every line of Brian De Palma’s 1983 gangster epic. I too was one of them but the budding cinephile in me has resisted the urge to praise this, albeit relatively well-written, large scale B-movie of a Cuban refugee’s rise to glory as the head of a cocaine empire. You see, authenticity is of the essence and well let’s just say Al wasn’t a very convincing Cuban.

One of the terrifyingly powerful things about a movie is that it can both entertain and strongly influence a societal mindset. Much like the Godfather (another flick starring the Great Al Pacino) did with Italian Americans, Scarface didn’t perpetuate stereotypes as much as it created one. First of all, Al Pacino sounds like an old Jewish man more than a 40-something Cuban. Try listening to a few scenes with your eyes closed. It works. What about his Spanish? It was almost as bad as Carlito’s Way. Holy hasas Frank, yet another De Palma/Pacino collaboration.

There are numerous examples of the Anglo-Latino switch-a-roo in American film. Alan Arkin’s portrayal of a single Puerto Rican father in Popi, Natalie Wood and George Ckakiris as Boricua siblings Maria and Bernardo is West Side Story, every badass student in a Teacher in the ‘hood flick, and Charlton Heston as a Mexican Detective in Alfred Hitchcok’s 1958 piece Touch of Evil, are just a few. Charlton Heston? Really? Wasn’t Ricardo Montalban doing his thing around this time?

Now I am certainly not against Non-Latino actors playing Latinos if the performance is convincing. It is acting after all. When I see a movie I want to see good actors who might happen to be Latino not just Latino actors. Pero come on Hollywood! There are far too may talented Latino thespians that deserve a break. Sure we can add a little sabor to the silver screen, but ultimately it’s the raw artistic talent that’s going untapped. You know what my answer is to this unfair treatment? John Leguizamo in Summer of Sam, Andy Garcia in almost everything, and the Monk Guy. He is Latino right?

I think I’m going to pop in a few DVD’s today, maybe Dog Day Afternoon followed by American Me.

By guest contributor, Mark A. Virella.


About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Thelma says:

    I am a BIG Al Pacino fan, but the Original “Scarface” from 1932 is my favorite.

  2. k. Cedano says:

    I absolutely agree… Why not play a Latino character with *wait for it* wait for it* and ACTUAL Hispanic?????

    Blows my mind, really…

  3. robertpacheco says:

    Thank you for your intelligent and dead on comments. The glamorization of this film, until this very day, makes me sad. Seeing so many young people sporting apparel blazoned with images of this b-movie. One that which too many of these same young people can’t even name the actor playing TM, let alone the director or any other trivia regarding same. Thanks again.

  4. robertpacheco says:

    Oh, I forgot, Al Pacino is not Latino. He is of Italian extraction. He was born in New York and raised in the south Bronx. Italians are not Latinos nor are they Anglo-saxons. There exists in europe a strong distinction between southern and northern europeans as to who is considered white.

  5. Cesar Vargas says:

    Awesome Mark!!!

  6. Carmin Ildefonso says:

    Well now that we are on the subject..What do we have to say about Mrs. Marc anthony., Better known as Jennifer Lopez..(J.LO.. Jenny from the Block)? Aside from Selena and Maid in Manhattan as well as Hector Lavoe’s wife .. Correct me if I’m wrong she has never played any other Latina roles…WHY? when she herself claims to be Abriendo caminos para las mujeres/actrizes LATINA’s! She also has a penchant for taking roles that have her playing woman with masculine names.. suchh as Charlie and such…Reallyy whats up with that?

  7. K. Cedano says:

    Robert, I’m pretty sure if you read between the lines you will notice Mark is being sarcastic…

  8. K. Cedano says:

    He knows Al isn’t our brand of “Latino.”

    …And while Italians aren’t our brand of Latinos, they are-by definition Latinos.

  9. Thanks everybody. lol.
    @ Thelma, Love Pacino’s work too, especially his early stuff like Serpico and Dog Afternoon. The Howard Hawke’s Scarface is an enjoyable film.
    @ Keyla, as always, you are dead on. Who would have thought? Latinos playing Latinos. I’d love to see more Latinos in different genres actually like adventure stories ala Indiana Jones. lol
    @Robert, Thank you sir. I of course know Al Pacino is not Latino. It was interesting to see how many people on the BL sight pointed this out to me. I hope it was only because they didn’t read the article. If not that’s a little scary. I thought the sarcasm was clear but perhaps not.
    @ Cesar, Gracias!

  10. The guy from Monk is Arab…eh, close enough LOL.

  11. Michael says:

    Nice article!

    I’m watching Scarface right now for the first time and wondering why Italian-Americans like Pacino, Loggia, and even F. Murray Abraham (1/2 Italian) are in here.

    But the best part, which you left out, is that the Godfather features many actors who aren’t Italian! Pacino’s parents were both Italian, but Marlon Brando (I mean c’mon, he’s the freaking title character!), James Caan, Abe Vigoda, Richard Bright…none of these people had ANY Italian blood at all.

    So first we had Anglo substitution for Italians, and then they used Italians to substitute for Cubans. It’s as if each new wave of immigrants is so unpalatable at the time that they feel the need to somehow “soften” them until they become fully assimilated. Though Italians were hardly recent immigrants back in the 70’s. Who knows what they reason is…

  12. Raceaintnothingbutanumber says:

    Al Pacino isn’t Anglo, so him playing Hispanic characters isn’t an “Anglo-Latino switchero”. It is a switchero involving one mediterranean race for another which (sometimes) involves varying degrees of Asian or American Indian ancestry. Natalie Wood was Russian or something (Eastern Europeans, like Mexicans and Spaniards, have a few natural fair skinned blondes in the mix, but for the most part it’s more Vlade Divac than Andrei Kirilenko over there) so Maria was probably roughly as Anglo as Mila Kunis or Kim Kardashian. And I’m surprised no one has mentioned Eli Wallach, another non-Latino (but also non-Anglo) who has played an assortment of “ethnic characters”, not to mention Charles Bronson, who probably discovered early on that he would have a hard time finding roles as Tartar characters if he wanted to stick to his own race.
    I agree with the writer of this article: as long as the person can play it with respect and make it a real person rather than a cartoon, I’m fine. But don’t stretch it too far. I’d never heard of Charlton Heston playing a Mexican, but we can do without out that or any more John “Genghis Khan” Waynes.

  13. ummm..the “monk guy”, is Tony Shaloub. He’s Jewish. I think Marc Anthony would do Scarface justice if they were to “remake the remake” once more. He has that type of “Je ne sais quois” that could really lend to the brovado of Al Pacino’s portrayal of Tony Montana.

  14. asiyah3 says:

    The monk guy is Lebanese Christian. I thought he was Jewish too but I met him at an Arab event in Dearborn. Mad chill, and he told me he gets Jewish a lot lol

    He definitely can pass for Latino.

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