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The problem with non-Latinos portraying Latinos in the media

Argo, the movie

Now Ben Affleck has added a Latino role to the list of characters he’s played.

In “Argo” Affleck portrays Tony Mendez, a CIA-agent who successfully executed a plan to stage a fake film project to smuggle six Americans held hostage by Iranian revolutionaries in 1979 out of that country.

Some say this isn’t a problem – it simply shows Affleck’s diversity as an actor. It’s just a role. It’s just acting.

But the fact is it’s not just about acting.

Though Tony Mendez told NBC Latino’s Jack Rico he doesn’t consider himself ‘Hispanic,’ that doesn’t change the fact that his father’s family was from Mexico.

And his seeming belief that it’s acceptable for an Irish guy from Boston to portray him doesn’t change the fact that Latinos are still underrepresented in the media despite our making up 16 percent of media watching population, according to figures from the U.S. Census.

Fewer roles means fewer chances for Latino artists to really be recognized for their talent. A 2010 study from the University of Southern California showed a decrease in the number of Latinos, and the number of films in which Latinos starred, nominated for Academy Awards, down to 4.9 percent in 2010 from 7.1 percent in 2008. It was no surprise that the majority of the actors nominated were white males, like Ben Affleck.

The role of Tony Mendez was a perfect opportunity to showcase Latino talent in an award-worthy role, in a film that won two Golden Globes and was nominated for several other awards, including some from the Screen Actor’s Guild and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

This wasn’t a fictional, oversexed Cuban character from “The Perez Family,” played by Italian-American actress Marisa Tomei; or the criminal drug-dealing criminal played by Al Pacino in Scarface; this was a real Latino person in history who did something noble and heroic.

While there are plenty of maids-turned-lovers-of-rich-white-men roles to go around, there are few opportunities for positive portrayals of Latinos in film, and those roles should be played by those in the community, some say.

“Of course a Latino should play a Latino hero,” said Jennifer Garcia, a Denver, Colo.-based educator. “Our kids today don’t have enough strong Latino role models to look up to. The lack has been shown to affect self-esteem without saying a word but unconsciously speaking a thousand.”

Some say Affleck was greedy in taking both the director and lead roles in the film. “He’s already directing,” said longtime Journalist Erika Davila, “does he need to star, too? I think it was dumb that he played him.”

 

By Being Latino Contributor, Ana Trujillo

About Being Latino Contributors

Being Latino contributors consists of individuals and partner organizations. They join us in our goal of providing our audience with a communication platform designed to educate, entertain and connect all peoples across the global Latino spectrum. Together we aim to break down barriers and foster unity and empowerment through informative, thought-provoking dialogue and exchanging of ideas. Giving a unified voice to the multitude of communities that identify with the multidimensional culture that is Latino.

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.

Comments

  1. Daniel Ruiz says:

    It should be noted that the author of this piece intentionally left out the fact that Tony Mendez has white skin and blue eyes. Further he has never denied his father’s family was from Mexico but simply considers himself just another kid raised in the US. It is no different than Sammy Davis Jr (half-Cuban) always being portrayed by an African American. Yet Latino journalist never complain about that.

  2. ThoughtsAndThen says:

    It should be noted that the above poster (“Daniel Ruiz”) is spreading misinformation.

    Mendez is not a white man. Mendez does not have “white skin and blue eyes”.

    Here is an article with a picture of the real Mendez shaking President Carter’s hand after the incident “Argo” is based on: tinyurl(dot)(com)/9plo7la

    Ben Affleck and Tony Mendez look nothing alike. Anyone who sees Mendez would think he is Latino.

    How funny to see anonymous comments from people like “Daniel Ruiz” spreading lies that can be debunked with just a one minute of searching online. It tells you something about how racists don’t like when their game is being called out o they becoming so desperate it’s pathetic.

  3. ThoughtsAndThen says:

    It should be noted that the above poster (“Daniel Ruiz”) is spreading misinformation.

    Mendez is not a white man. Mendez does not have “white skin and blue eyes”.

    Here is an article with a picture of the real Mendez shaking President Carter’s hand after the incident “Argo” is based on: tinyurl(dot)(com)/9plo7la

    Notice that Mendez’s appearance in that photo does not match what “Daniel Ruiz” claimed at all.

    “Ben Affleck and Tony Mendez look nothing alike. Anyone who sees Mendez would think he is Latino.

    How funny to see anonymous comments from people like “Daniel Ruiz” spreading lies that can be debunked with just a one minute of searching online. It tells you something about how racists don’t like when their game is being called out so they become so desperate it’s pathetic.

    Argo is an example of how Hollywood continually practices racism in its casting by giving the best roles to white actors regardless if the role was a character of color and limits actors of color to play forgettable roles and stereotypes.

  4. Mirlo says:

    I agree with Daniel, It was Affleck who did the movie, of course he’s going to be the leading role. I don’t think he meant anything by it.

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