"There's sort of an accepted myth [in the film business]," Will Smith told the Birmingham Post in 2005, during a press junket for his film Hitch, "if you have two black actors—a male and a female—in a romantic comedy, people around the world don't want to see it. So, the idea of a black actor and a white actress comes up—and that's a problem in the US." The solution, Will concluded, while revealing a bit of insider Hollywood racism?
As members of the largest minority group in America, Latinos represent big business in Hollywood. Latin actresses like Eva Mendes and Salma Hayek appeal to men across all demographics—and offend none. Naturally, this casting trend has provided great opportunities for our Latina leading ladies, jumpstarting Eva's career and, more recently, Lymari Nadal (American Gangster) and Alice Braga (I am Legend), but even they are aware that success comes at a price.
"Certainly, I've benefited," Eva told Newsweek. "I've gotten to work with Ice Cube, Denzel Washington and Will. But it's lame. I wish the mentality wasn't so closed."
African American actresses like Queen Latifah share Eva's concern. "My take is, America is racist," Latifah told EurWeb.com while doing press for her film Beauty hop. "I hate the idea that you can't have a black couple [on screen]."
"Two black characters equals a black film," clarifies actress Nia Long. "Not just a movie about two people." The stigma of a "black film" scares away studio bosses hoping to appeal to mainstream audiences. "We spent $50-something million making this movie," said Will Smith of the decision not to cast a black actress opposite him in Hitch. "The studio would think that was tough on their investment." So, Latinas have slipped in as the politically and commerically-correct substitutes.
While no one seems to be suggesting that Latinas in Hollywood have gotten ahead solely because of this casting loophole, almost everyone—except maybe the studio bosses that enforce this unspoken code—wishes the playing field was more level. In a rare instance of candidness, b>Jessica Alba spoke out against Hollywood's typecasting tendency: "this industry definitely made me think about being a Latin girl," she told EurWeb.com in 2005. "They always want to
The silver lining to this dark cloud may be that—more and more—Latinas are being cast in prominent leading roles. Rather than "Maria, the janitor's daughter messing around with the white kid," as Alba describes one of her early offers, Latinas get to play journalists, cops, college students, and other relatively well-rounded women. In I am Legend, which opens this weekend, Hollywood newcomer Alice Braga snagged one of only five speaking parts, as one of Will Smith's fellow survivors. It may be a stretch to call that progress, but hopefully as America sees more diversity in front of the camera, love will truly become colorblind.