The State of the Latino Leading Man in Hollywood

EXCLUSIVE: The State of the Latino Leading Man in Hollywood
Splash News

This story originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Latina magazine.

Benicio del Toro’s Heineken Beer commercial says it all: The ruggedly handsome Puerto Rican actor, easily the most decorated Latino actor of the past 20 years — with an Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA — is spotted by tourists through a restaurant window; as they line up a selfie with a cooperative Del Toro, one of them exclaims: “Antonio Banderas!”

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Yes, it’s in jest. But as they say, there is more than a grain of truth in it. And the joke is partly on us, the Latino audience.

While some complain about the paucity of lead roles for Latinas in Hollywood, we forget that Latino leading men are lagging even farther. Where are the male equivalents of superstar Jennifer Lopez or Sofia Vergara, the highest paid actress on TV, or the fast-rising Gina Rodriguez? Few Latino male protagonists are rising to that level.

But the situation was much more dire 20 years ago, according to Jimmy Smits, the veteran boricua star, most recently in Fox’s 24: Legacy. “We’ve made a lot of traction, but there’s still a long way to go,” he says.

In 1996, Smits received his first Golden Globe Award for his role as Bobby Simone on NYPD Blue. In theaters that same year, hot off Desperado, visionary Tejano director Robert Rodriguez delivered the cult favorite From Dusk Till Dawn. Yet the thriller’s headliner was George Clooney, with

Mexican actors Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo in supporting roles. Though a Latino was good enough to direct the film, the lead had to be a white A-lister.

Fast-forward to 2016—things are changing. Hands of Stone, the biopic about Panamanian boxing champion Roberto Durán directed and written by Venezuelan Jonathan Jakubowicz and coproduced by Costa Rican Jay Weisleder, stars the Venezuelan Edgar Ramirez in the title role.

“I didn’t want to make films that portrayed Latinos in a stereotypical fashion, which is murderers, drug dealers, womanizers,” says Weisleder, who’s also making a biopic on baseball giant Roberto Clemente. “I wanted to change that and find a way to go against the stereotype. How can we get validated? The image of Roberto Durán popped in my head. That’s the movie we have to make.”

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