Hispanics, Latinos and Hollywood

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Of course you have heard of the Italian Rudolf Valentino, the Latin Lover. He became famous as a gaucho in Vicente Blasco Ibáñez’s film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, (Los cuatro jinetes del apocalipsis) a 1921 silent film, where tango was introduced worldwide. The movie was a huge success and its impact was of great proportions in American society. It also made the novelist a rich man. He was paid $20,000 for the script.

Blasco Ibáñez (1867-1928) was the first Spanish writer to conquer Hollywood with his novels. Blood and Sand (Sangre y arena, a remake with Tyrone Powell was made in 1941) followed in 1922, where Valentino played the role of matador. In 1926, Mare Nostrum, silent also, and that same year The Temptress (La tierra de todos), with Greta Garbo were released.

These films helped shape the stereotypes of the goucho, Latin lover, and, of course, the matador: the romantic toreador. Things Spanish became popular.  

Remember José Ferrer de Otero y Cintrón (1912-1992) in the film Cyrano the Bergerac, 1950, where he played the role of his life? A Puerto Rican by birth, from Santurce, he was the first Hispanic to win an Oscar as Best Actor for his leading role. His words No thank you… Thank you, but no still ring in my ears, as when I heard them as a very young boy at a movie theater in Madrid, in the original English version.

Ferrer had been a Shakespearean actor in such tragedies as Othello, playing the part of Iago, on Broadway. He went on to receive three nominations; one for his interpretation of Tolouse-Lautrec in Moulin Rouge. He was not stereotyped, and he insisted on Governor Muñoz Marín of Puerto Rico giving him the Academy Award in his home town, San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was one of the best actors the US has ever had. Apart from English and Spanish, he spoke French, Italian and German.

If you wish to hear the best English ever, watch his Cyrano de Bergerac, a black and white film, and you will be able to discover the beauty of English sounds and words. In my case, when I think of good English, Ferrer comes to mind. Always.    

11OCT98: Actor ANTHONY QUINN & wife at the International Achievement in Arts Awards in Beverly Hills. The event benefitted the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children.

We cannot forget Anthony Quinn, Mexican by birth, who won an Oscar for his supporting role in Viva Zapata, 1956. Another great actor.

I must mention also Rita Moreno, from Puerto Rico, who won an Oscar for her role in West Side Story. She was also awarded an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony, no less.

At that time they were simply American actors, not Hispanic actors, as they would be termed now, who conquered Hollywood over sixty years ago. The American film industry was relevant thanks to these pioneers.

And today we have Esai Morales and Jennifer López, both born in the US. And Andy García or Benicio del Toro, along many others. The surnames tell us of their origins.

LOS ANGELES – MAY 5: Andy Garcia at the Oceans Thirteen Premiere in Los Angeles, California on May 5, 2007.

The above gives the lie to what Wikipedia – which I distrust as a reliable source – writes about Latino actors in Hollywood: “Latinos in Hollywood films are rarely the protagonists and their characters typically are marginalized and underdeveloped if a Latino is the protagonist. The use of stereotypes is dominant for Latino characters. Latino characters are seen as sexual, aggressive, and childlike individuals. Latinas play roles as housemaids or extremely sexual characters.”

The stage, screen and television bowed to the super-actors I have mentioned. Hollywood would not be the same without them.

Be proud. More are yet to come, of course.

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