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[REMEZCLA]

Gringos Playing Latinos

BY Matt Barbot | PUBLISHED: Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011
Gringos Playing Latinos

Michael Cera and Will Ferrell won’t be the first non-Latinos to ever take on Latino roles. In fact, decades before Jessica Alba “Don’t call me Latina”-gate, Hollywood would choose non-Latinos to interpret the roles of Hispanic characters. Sometimes this goes just swimmingly. Other times, well, not so much. In honor of Señores Cera y Ferrell, and the coming Oscar awards ceremony, we present a list. It’s not the most comprehensive, but it covers plenty of our favorites.

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AL PACINO

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pacinoAl Pacino’s most famous Latin role, of course, is Scarface’s Tony Montana. The snarling Marielista that ensnared the hearts, minds, and bedroom walls of college students and rappers everywhere with his own version of the American dream (money, power, and the pursuit of women?) is…interesting for us Latinos to watch. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the writing. Frankly, it’s not necessarily Pacino’s fault—can we blame him for being cast in a role he wasn’t up to? The accent is terrible in English and worse in Spanish.

And so, naturally, he was asked to take on the accent again for Carlito’s Way. Here’s a question to pose to Hollywood: why is it that ethnic gangsters can only find redemption in the arms of weak-willed WASPS? At least The Godfather examined this, made it thematic. Interestingly enough, though, Carlito’s Way leads us right into the next actor on our list…

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VIGGO MORTENSEN

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viggoWe have an actor-crush on Aragorn.

Viggo Mortensen appears in Carlito’s Way as Carlito’s wheelchair-bound associate (Lalin), and he is utterly, utterly convincing. But then again, why would that be surprising? Viggo’s a polyglot that spent much of his early life in Buenos Aires.

Of course, he really gets to show off in Alatriste, a Spanish swashbuckling epic based on Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s series of novels about Captain Alatriste, a Spanish mercenary fighting in the wars against Flanders. Swordfighting, wit, sweeping storytelling…and three hours of Viggo Mortensen speaking absolutely perfect Castillian, indistinguishable among his Spanish co-stars.

After all, he did speak Elvish, too.

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NATALIE WOOD

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natalie woodMaríaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, I just met a girl named Maríaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…

Okay, we’re not taking anything away from our girl Rita Moreno, but Ms. Wood is lovely as Boricua Juliet in West Side Story, doing what so few ingenues can do: make the audience fall in love with her as much as the leading man. Her last scene—”How many bullets are left, Chino?”—is devastating to watch.

And we can’t forget the amazing (and very Greek) George Chakiris, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting actor for the role of María’s overprotective brother Bernardo.

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MARLON BRANDO

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brandoViva Zapata!, Elia Kazan’s fictionalized biography of the Mexican revolutionary leader (penned by the inimitable John Steinbeck), starred Marlon Brando as the mustachioed hero. Seriously, look at that moustache: it’s epic. The film amps up the heroism, depicting Zapata as a selfless, incorruptible leader, and Brando simmers in the role in that soft-spoken-but-scary way only Brando can. Points for not anglicizing pronunciations!

It might be a little bit unfair to single out Brando in a film chock full of gringos playing Mexicans (and one Mexican, Anthony Quinn, probably wishing he could use his birth name in the credits just this once), but Brando got an Oscar nomination for the role.

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HANK AZARIA

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Agador, the maid (?), in The Birdcage. Who doesn’t love Hank Azaria?

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MADONNA

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evitaOkay, Evita’s not a great movie. In the opinion of this writer, it wasn’t a great stage musical either. Madonna, though, sent its music into the stratosphere and brought attention not only to the musical but to the story of one of Latin American history’s most famous, beloved, and at times controversial figures, a figure that, until the film Evita, was largely absent in US popular knowledge.

She also made a radio-hit out of a showtune.

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ZORRO

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Mexican Batman before Batman was a thing, Zorro has a long history on film and television, and—especially in his early years—was always played by non-Latino actors. He’s been played by Douglas Fairbanks, Robert Livingston, Guy Williams, John Carroll, even Frank Langella. Most recently, Anthony Hopkins stepped in for a great turn as an elderly Don Diego de la Vega, turning over the black mask and cape to spring-chicken (and actually Hispanic) Antonio Banderas.

And cudos to Welsh beauty Catherine Zeta-Jones for sword fighting and wearing ruffled red dresses so convincingly.

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HONORARY MENTIONS

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Ingrid Bergman in For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ingrid Bergman fans, take it up with That Guy who always comments that Spaniards aren’t Latino).

Johnny Depp in Don Juan DeMarco (he plays a guy playing a Spaniard, and was also set to be a character who replaces Sancho Panza in The Man Who Killed Don Quixote before that collapsed and became Lost in La Mancha).

Eli Wallach in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Westerns!)

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Leave a comment with your favorite examples of gringos playing Latinos.



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