Navigating The Afro Latinx Identity in Hollywood
Following the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, Hollywood has seemed to redeem itself with notable wins from Moonlight and Fences highlighting stories featuring African American lead actors and actresses. But the question is and still remains, is this enough representation? What about Latinx women? Afro Latinx? When it comes to true representation, Hollywood needs to look further into the spectrum of these identities within the Latino experience.
NALIP was presenting partner at the “Afro Latinos in Hollywood” event in Los Angeles this past weekend, where several Afro Latinx industry professionals shared their experiences of navigating their Afro Latinx identity and what it means to them when it comes to the industry and Hollywood.
When asked, “What does it mean to be Afro Latinx?”, Andre Royo, actor on The Wire and Empire stated, “A lot of responsibility, since the beginning of my career Hollywood has only ever wanted to cast me as one part of my identity, my black side, because to them, I didn’t look Latino.” Being Latinx and looking Latinx is still a barrier for many Afro Latinxs trying to enter the Hollywood ecosystem, leading many to make their own identities disregarding the Hollywood stereotypes, “Because I was undefined, I felt I was never enough on both sides, my acting/work has become my definer, not just my skin color,” says Allen Maldonado, actor on Black-ish.
The struggle of prejudice within their own Latinx community was also common theme, “The way our Latinx community sees blackness is so different than let's say African Americans or Haitians, it is often deemed as “unwanted”, comments Sierra Smith, writer for Narcos and new Starz show Vida. The notion of having strong African American facial features or a darker skin color not always translating to being “beautiful” or “ideal” is still an issue that Afro Latinxs face and want to change through embracing adequate representation on screen.
Knowing and being able to speak spanish for many was a strong connector to their Latinx identity, “I forced myself to speak Spanish, because I didn't want to lose it, I wanted to be able to communicate with my mother and grandmother,” says actress Lisa Vidal. “I feel as if I am part of two worlds, especially in knowing Spanish, I feel like I’m able to connect to any Latinx, be it Mexicans or Puerto Ricans, or anyone,” comments Sierra Smith. In terms of role models and inspirations, many stated that their own families were strong forces in shaping their perceptions of themselves, at times encouraging them to be themselves and not try to fit in. “My father always said, “don’t try to look for you on the screen, ‘cuz your not gonna find it, just be.” states Andre Royo. Now, these Afro Latinx entertainment professionals are proud of their work within the industry, whether through their acting or writing and producing, advancing the Afro Latinx identity into the mainstream conversation as just being a fact and part of the Latinx identity. “For me, just being able to write characters with their own nuances and not just the typical Cuban/Puerto Rican drug dealing roles is what the journey is about, being able to write them without anyone questioning me is what makes my experience a positive one,” Carlito Rodriguez writer for the show Empire.
The Latinx experience cannot be contained into one idea or stereotype it a spectrum that also intersects, gender, orientation, and ethnicity which is why NALIP is at the forefront of showcasing these different identities. Bringing to light these voices of the Afro Latinx identity, NALIP aims to shift the paradigm of what Latinxs “look” like and showcase the different voices on and behind the camera.