Women Helping Women in Hollywood: How about Latinos helping Latinos?
Very recently there was a thought-provoking article in the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times. Basically, it was a profile of actress/writer/film director Emma Thompson. The main reason for the piece was that it was a vehicle to promote her latest movie, “Late Night.” But the politically active lady who has said, “Maybe I should keep my mouth shut sometimes,” used the article to harangue the male-dominated movie industry. What a shock that misogynistic gringo tapados rule the roost in the land of Hollywood movies. In the article she said some things worth noting.
I read Mary McNamara’s solidly written piece on Emma Thompson and Thompson’s many opinions on many issues. (An admission here: I have long admired Thompson’s work and her earnest political activity that suggests she puts her money where her mouth is.)
In the article Thompson suggests a significant reason there aren’t more women at the top of the movie industry is that men-–already at the top—smooth the way for more men to move upward, at the expense of women. It’s a “huge motorway to power” while women stumble and grumble along a rutted road to the top. What a shock! Men help men, except when the men they are mentoring might take the mentor’s own job. What a shock! Women aren’t being helped enough because there aren’t enough “helpers” on the highway to success. But beware that women may not be eager to groom women who will take their elite gigs, whether as actors or writers or directors or producers.
Here’s another side of the coin.
Guess what? Latinos working diligently for the last 50 years or more to become significant players in Hollywood know what that’s all about. We’ve seen this movie before. We’ve been in it since movies started talking. Yeah, Big Time Latino Players on this metaphorical motorway can help novice Latinos merge from the onramps of creativity. But there aren’t that many prominent, influential Latino players in the Hollywood universe.
The most prominent three individuals are phenomenally successful Mexican film directors. These are talented guys who are quite deserving of the accolades they’ve achieved. I’m talking about mexicanos Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñarritu. Hell, in the span of a few years these Mexican directors have won four Academy Awards for Best Director. A stellar achievement. But they are of the so-called frijoliwood phenomenon.
These are phenomenally talented and successful men. Are they helping U.S.-born Chicanos and other Latinos move up in Hollywood? It remains to be seen, but so far there’s not much evidence of that. A little perspective is required.
These indisputably talented individuals are not United States born and bred Latinos. (Let’s not hold that against them.) But the fact is they have an immutably different perspective and experience than, say, Los Angeles Chicanos. Cuaron, del Toro and Iñarritu are privileged guys who were born and raised in Mexico – largely Mexico City. They are chilangos. Nothing inherently wrong with that, of course. But bear in mind that we are talking about class distinctions and elite experiences. So-called upper class Mexicans can easily swim in the ponds of upper class, privileged gringos in Hollywood. They can relate to each other. They have relatively immediate access, because of class and station.
Working class Latinos in the U.S. don’t have that advantage. We are outside the building, throwing rocks. We are striving to hone our skills and get exposed in, shall we say?, smaller venues that The Big Studios.
Class and country club reality for the Mexican film elites is what eased the entry of the Cuarons et. al. into the patriciate, decision-making echelons of the media industry in the United States. Nothing against them. But let’s see what kind of efforts they make to help U.S. Latinos move into the influential ranks of Hollywood. Let’s see how many more working-class Latino stories get told on film.
What’s at stake, really, is not just a pathway to gigs for Latinos (or women) in and of itself. What’s at stake is the professional environment that can allow moviedom to tell authentic stories about people who are not just blond, blue-eyed and late for their appointment with their Feng Shui consultant. How do you get to tell those types of stories? It helps to have people with experiences outside of Beverly Hills – working class women and Latinos/Latinas. (I don’t buy into the Latinx perversion of the lexicon.)
Emma Thompson suggests that women with influence should help novice women merge onto the motorway that could lead to success. The same can be said about Latinos/Latinas, African Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Indigenous men and women, disabled Americans and members of the LGBT community. Hey, we’re kind of in this crazy thing together, aren’t we?
Veteran journalist Luis Torres is the author of a forthcoming book on the life and legacy of pioneering politician Gloria Molina. He can reached at: Luis.firstname.lastname@example.org Photo of DGA members courtesy of DGA. All other photos copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions, Inc.