I have been pretty caustic lately with the lack of diversity in Hollywood and the media. Now it’s time we have a serious conversation with the community. A conversation you’re not going to like, but I’m not here to hold anyone’s hands. We’re all adults. Let’s have an adult conversation. This one is about Alfonso Cuarón’s “Latinoness” or lack thereof for creating content that doesn’t fall under the “our stories” category. Which is code for “ethnic porn.”
This is in regards to the fringe bastions of culture who say Alfonso Cuarón's work can't be claimed as "Latino" or "Mexican" because it's not -ahem- a "real" film showcasing (elevating) our "culture." In other words, the precipitous concept of telling "our stories," again.
Cuarón's career is the next (but not final step) away from the tired positive and negative stereotypes we love and hate, we welcome and repudiate. Seriously, folks, we don't walk around with arroz con gandules over our heads 24/7.
- César Vargas
First, let’s get through the steps to recognizing ethnic porn:
1. It induces white guilt.
2. It receives lots of accolades from white established entities (Cuarón's work is finally an exception here).
3. It is white validated: white stamp of approval.
4. It contains both/either positive or negative stereotypes.
5. It is based in an urban location and the language is “'hood.”
6. There is a strong/hard matriarch or patriarch.
7. Males are portrayed as one dimensional savages: misogynistic (sexist), criminals, gang bangers, simple/one track minded, violent, junkies, homophobic, uneducated, docile…
8. Females are portrayed through the madonna-whore complex eye: marianismo, martyrs, humble, promiscuous, codependent…
I stand wholeheartedly behind Cuarón here. Cuarón's career is the next (but not final) step away from the tired positive and negative stereotypes we love and hate, we welcome and repudiate. Seriously, folks, we don't walk around with arroz con gandules over our heads 24/7. You don't have to beat people over the head to show them what ethnicity you are or how proud you are of your background. We’re not a one-dimensional people. Welcome all aspects of us; The good, the bad, as well as being liberally creative and claiming that as our own no matter the genre. Let’s delve into horror, sci-fi, comedy, rom-coms, you name it. But, please, don’t suffocate our humanity, our potential, our creativity by demanding that we only show one minute side of us. Why does it only have to be drama for us? And why does that drama only have to be about our history, our struggles, our ethnicity? We love, hate, hurt, and rejoice. We drink liquor and beer that's not just tequila and Corona, just like everybody else. Some of us prefer rock or R&B over salsa and bachata. Some of us don't care for Adobo or Vicks. Enough is enough.
Alfonso Cuarón is one of us. I, for one, will celebrate his many accomplishments as testaments of what we can do when given a fair chance.
There are two crude truths Hollywood and the community do not want to hear. For Hollywood: 1. There is money in diversity. For the community: 2. There's no money in telling "our stories."
Welcome to the real world of business. Show business. Why make a 20-60 million dollar film that only 5,000 people want to see? That happens again and again. They don’t all exactly cost that much to make and the folks who might want to see them are more than 5,000 (note that most of those people who tell you they want to see these films don’t actually go to see them), but all "our stories" have been making little to no money except for the ones about our deceased celebrities. So unless we’re going to start killing off more of them, ‘tis best we quiet the mediocrity. If we want Hollywood to take us seriously, then we have to speak money. It's the same with music. Take gangsta rap and contrast it with neo soul rappers, for instance. The purists wanted more "uplifting" music (which I find nauseating) and the rest of the world spent their money on gangsta rap (or pop, now that we're here). Diversity works, but not with that "message of humanity" through "our stories." Which has been done before, but it doesn't translate to views or ticket sales. It doesn’t make any money.
"Bless Me, Ultima," for instance, was released not long ago. Everyone thought that was going to make a lot of money because it was adapted from a well-known and revered "Latino" book that's "mainstream." You want to know how much that made and how much it cost? Production cost: N/A. You know what that means, right? One can only hope that the Cesar Chavez movie makes money. Most likely it will and hopefully it brings a return, but I'm not holding my breath. The production cost is also N/A.
Alfonso Cuarón’s movies make money. Let’s not dismiss him and his work because he’s not pandering to a minute group of people. Frankly, I find that entire premise of “once you go pop or mainstream, you’re no longer good or one of us” to be so infantile.
Eventually, and I hate repeating myself, once we have enough money to fund "our stories" and pet projects, then we can make them. The right way and with the right budget. Even still, the big name celebrities have to give a million "Interview with the Vampire"s and "World War Z"s to get a "12 Years a Slave" funded, but we want to skip that step and that gets people upset and not take us seriously. That's when we really fall into that entitlement mentality. Why go out of the way for us when it isn't done for anyone? We have to play the game with a realistic strategy. Not "charity." It's show business, and like the phrase goes: if you want to send a message, then head out to Western Union.
It’s pointless to get into the semantics of what constitutes a Mexican or Latino story. Everyone will have a differing opinion about it. But can we at least celebrate the accomplishments of one of our own? Does this not mean that we are capable of creating great work of art that is going to bring a return and receive awards? Maybe now Hollywood will be more willing to fund “our stories” now that we have delivered.
I don’t know about you, but I’m shelving this one under an “I told you so.” For both Hollywood and the Latino community.
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.