Hollywood likes to pretend it's a bastion of liberal morality; instead it's a racist, misogynistic, club of rich white men giving each other Oscars for being the masters of the universe.
Hollywood is clueless about the extremely talented young new wave of Latino writers and filmmakers out there. On one hand, they see us as being incapable of creating good content that isn't stereotypical and bring a return or an Academy Award. On the other hand, they hire these obtuse Latino "experts" that become gatekeepers to this very young new wave. You can't expect to win if you use the same players and employ the same strategy. Over and over and over again. That’s insanity. In art and business.
Once you call yourself a Latino filmmaker or your work Latino, you are pretty much damning it from the outset. Then again, if you don’t consider yourself one, you will get very little support.
- Cesar Vargas
Now, when it comes to nominating us for Academy Awards, we might as well forget about it. The people who do get nominated for “Latino stories” aren’t exactly Latino. "Argo" was completely whitewashed and now it’s getting lots of kudos, of course. Then, and again, Tony Mendez doesn’t consider himself one of us so we’re barking at the wrong tree there. It’s OK, Ben Affleck. Just remember that we can act too. Think about that for next time. At least you hired a Latino to do the sound-mixing. We forgive you.
We didn’t forget about "A Better Life." Damién Bichir was nominated for best actor last year for his exceptional portrayal of an illegal - you guessed it- gardener. But he lost to a smooth French cat that brings out nostalgia out of the hearts of old white men instead. Narcissistic nostalgia beats out compassion every damn time. But, it’s OK, we didn’t write or direct the film. It’s just another Latino experience .... through white eyes.
Some of us did get nominated. Claudio Miranda for best cinematography for "Life of Pi." "Inocente" for best short documentary and "Searching for Sugar Man" for feature documentary. However, we didn’t tell those stories. The ones that we do are passed over as subpar. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of them are — but to pretend that there isn’t at least a handful of good films created by us is extremely suspicious, considering the amount of Latino films created each year.
Yes, content is king. Some of us know. The ones who can write great “Latino films” aren't getting noticed, though. Unfortunately, it's a popularity contest among Latinos in the industry and the ones getting funded are knee-deep in mediocrity.
We are in dire need of content creators who can step outside of the proverbial stereotypical box and not get sucked in the Latino conundrum. Once you call yourself a Latino filmmaker or your work Latino, you are pretty much damning it from the outset. Then again, if you don’t consider yourself one, you will get very little support and you will face fierce competition. It’s a double-edged sword, this Latino business. You must be thrice as good as the next guy to get recognition.
We should strive for more of us to be in front and behind the camera. The pet projects, the ones worthy of nominations, can come after we first make money. It's not just about a filmmaker’s sensibilities. It's a business first and foremost. The filmmaker has to give a little in order to get something back.
Forget about the Oscars for now. Let’s make money and later create those pet projects that are worthy of consideration.
Eventually, the masters of the universe will have no choice but to recognize good work that was polished through adequate funding. For now, they have the upper hand and will continue to dismiss the few good films we scraped together. Let’s not give them the satisfaction anymore.
If we still don’t get nominated, just know that the Oscars statuette was made in the image of Emilio “El Indio” Fernandez. One of us.
César Vargas is the director of the DREAM Action Coalition and a national activist for the DREAM Act.