OPINION

Opinion: Latinos and Superheroes – The conversation continues

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 20:  (L-R) Actress Rosario Dawson, director Diego Luna and actress America Ferrera arrive at the premiere of Pantelion Films And Participant Media's "Cesar Chavez" at the Chinese Theatre on March 20, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 20: (L-R) Actress Rosario Dawson, director Diego Luna and actress America Ferrera arrive at the premiere of Pantelion Films And Participant Media's "Cesar Chavez" at the Chinese Theatre on March 20, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)  (2014 Getty Images)

On Wednesday night I attended the Voto Latino 10th anniversary event in Washington, D.C. Following up on my column last week, I spoke with several Latino celebrities on the red carpet about what they thought of minorities playing superheroes that have been primarily played by white actors. Needless to say, they were all for a fair and realistic representation of the diversity of America in the entertainment industry.

“I’m excited that they’re recognizing the country looks very different than what the comic books painted many, many years ago,” Wilmer Valderrama told me. “To me, that is the biggest success we have. The fact that they’re paying attention, that there’s a new beginning, there’s a new morning that we’re waking up to. I think the country deserves to look how they look in the movies and on television. I think it is an exciting time for diversity. I think the studios and networks really, truly need to figure this out and make sure that everyone is represented.”

When minorities complain that a white person is stealing the few roles available to them, their reaction (which is usually and equally as visceral as when they see a minority playing a character they think should only be played by whites) is to elevate the performing arts above race and ethnicity. So what gives?  

- Cesar Vargas

America Ferrera was more blunt. “I just think the portrayal of Latinos in the media needs to be more diverse. I think we’re capable of so much. We are an incredibly diverse cultural community. We’re doctors, lawyers, we are soldiers, we are mothers, we are elected officials, we are teachers. Some of us are housekeepers, and gardeners, and maids, but there’s obviously been a very strong representation of our community in [just] one way for a long time. It’s time for that single representation to be cracked opened and diversified.”

Rosario Dawson had the most to say about the issue: “Superheroes are made with diversity anyway. It’s just maybe that those particular stories weren’t being told. When you look at these many remakes and you’re like, ‘wait a minute, in Conan they had Grace Jones and all of these people, why is the remake not nearly as diverse?’

“There were a lot of really remarkable women nominated for being in movies in the 60s and 50s and there were remarkable roles. Like really powerful. The kind of stuff we’d kill over having today. So what happened? And the fact of the matter is that we do have. The pendulum swings back and forth sometimes. We really need to take advantage of the times when is over here, and amplify it, and really grow it, and show those numbers. Show up.

“Latinos that are over-indexing buying those [movie] tickets, they’re not showing up to see Chavez, they’re not showing up to see Selma, then we don’t get traction, we don’t get more of those movies. So it’s really important for us to start supporting our stories out there and celebrating people like Iñárritu making all types of stories.

“And the fact that we’re capable, we’re just all playing together. As long as we’re having fun and we’re really all being inclusive I think we’ll have something really powerful to go. At the same time, there’s some really amazing things going and we can’t just always be pessimistic about it.

There’s really, really great stuff that’s happening and we need to amplify that because positivity is what’s really going to move the dial forward. I feel really lucky because I got to voice Wonder Woman a couple of times. So that was really fun. She was [what] I always wanted [to play]. I feel like I got to, kind of. I can take that off my list of to-do.”

That’s what three prominent, but most importantly, conscious and uplifting Latinos had to say about that. Now bear with me because this is going to be a bumpy ride.

You don't blame minorities for supposedly not creating their own fiction. Out of 60 million plus minorities in the US of A, you're going to really believe not one of them is creating their own fictional characters? Their own mythology? By the way, white mythology is also an amalgamation (or stolen creative property, if you want to go there) from other mythologies. Even the Jesus story is criticized as being stolen from Horus'. My point is that all stories progress and change throughout the times. God knows white men, specifically, have been usurping entire cultures, countries, religions, and entire continents. The bottom line is that accusing minorities of being creatively lazy is pretty myopic and obtuse. Especially since so many of us have been writing stories for years.

Another thing: If we have an issue with lazy writers, why aren’t the “Fast & Furious” creators – or the creators of most franchises today – getting called lazy for churning out so many films about the same thing? Why criticize the underdog? The onus isn't on us. It's on Hollywood executives. Calling minorities lazy sounds like what the typical racist troll writes online.

You might want to reconsider your opinion and do a little research as to why our stories aren't being funded. Cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz tweeted that “Cartoonists and writers of color have been creating ethnic superheroes and characters for decades. But then we're told they're ‘not universal’.” But get a load of this: this generation of moviegoers wants to see diversity and they show that by showing up more to movies and TV shows with a diverse cast.

So if comic book fans want a Latina to play the female Green Lantern (Jessica Cruz), what’s so wrong about that? “Why is Shakespeare only played by white actors? Why can't they be played by everybody of all colors? Stories are about human beings," said Rosie Perez in a recent segment of “The View.” I completely agree with her. So gracias, Rosie. Anyone can be a Green Lantern, by the way. It's not really based on a specific race. There are alien Lanterns in the Green Lantern Corps. Now that we’re here, why would radioactive spiders only bite white guys? If we’re going to be ridiculous, let’s stay within the confines of our ridiculousness and assume that fictional spiders are not projections of our biases and that they won’t discriminate against women and minorities.

Few movies (if any) adapted from comic books are exactly like the comic books, to the chagrin of fan boys. It wouldn’t translate as well to stay too true to them. It’s fair that those fans are upset over that, but not when it comes to race, because those very same fan boys who complain that diversity champions are ruining the veracity of their favorite fiction, are the same ones who become champions of the performing arts. Meaning, when minorities complain that a white person is stealing the few roles available to them, their reaction (which is usually and equally as visceral as when they see a minority playing a character they think should only be played by whites) is to elevate the performing arts above race and ethnicity. So what gives?  

If we want Hollywood and politicians to take us seriously, then let’s flex our muscles. Not just with outside forces. Let’s also clean up our act. Get up, stand up for your rights to exist and be treated with dignity. Show up. Vote. State your peace with your words, with your money, with your presence. Going against those who combat ignorance and hate makes us willful participants in the oppressive machine. Say no more to this.

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Originally said by Howard Beale, a white guy, in the Network movie, but now this Latino is yelling it at the top of his lungs. They say that the only sure things in life are death and taxes. I say add diversity to that. If you don’t like it, kick rocks.

César Vargas is a producer, writer, director, and social media strategist. He founded UPLIFTT (United People for Latinos in Film TV and Theater) and is president of Burning Ones Productions. You can reach him on Twitter at /CesarVargas365.

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