Much has been made of the "Latino explosion" in the entertainment industry in the last few years, with the emergence of stars Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony and Salma Hayek.
While these performers have achieved household-name status, two lesser-known actors have already secured a more select kind of glory. Benicio Del Toro and Javier Bardem have joined the very small group of Latino actors nominated for an Academy Award.
That short list includes Puerto Rican natives José Ferrer (nominated three times, and a winner for 1950's Cyrano de Bergerac), Rita Moreno (a winner for 1961's West Side Story), and Rosie Perez (nominated for 1993's Fearless); Cuban-born Andy Garcia (nominated in 1990 for The Godfather, Part III); Los Angeles native Edward James Olmos (nominated for 1988's Stand and Deliver); and Mexican-born Anthony Quinn, a four-time Oscar nominee and a two-time winner.
Color Doesn't Matter, Says Del Toro
Santiago Pozo, the founder of the 14-year-old Los Angeles-based Arenas Group, which markets films to the Latino market, tells Mr. Showbiz, "I am thrilled not only for Benicio but for Javier Bardem as well. I believe that Latinos in Hollywood are all in the same boat: The success of one is the success of all."
As for the scarcity of good roles for Latinos, the Puerto Rican-born Del Toro, who is nominated for his role as a Mexican cop in Traffic, told Amazon.com recently, "Actors don't make movies; writers make movies, directors make movies. So, you know, I refuse to believe it that it's difficult. It doesn't matter what color, what ethnic group [you are], it's difficult for everybody."
Pozo, who also served on this year's foreign-language film Oscar committee (which saw the nomination of Mexican film Amores Perros), adds, "I particularly love that Benicio, who is Puerto Rican, is nominated for playing a Mexican. There's one myth in circulation that [actors from one Spanish-speaking country can't play people from another]. That would be [like saying that if] you're from Kansas, you cannot play a Texan. But that, in principle, has been applied to my culture. It was one issue in the marketing of Selena, that a Puerto Rican actress like Jennifer Lopez was playing a Tejano."
Bardem's Way With Accent Rivals Streep's
For his role as the late Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls, Bardem became the first Spanish actor ever to receive an Academy Award nomination. To play Arenas, Bardem had to learn English and, like Del Toro, he had to learn a different Spanish dialect to play a Cuban.
While few outside the academy have seen the film, Pozo gives Javier the thumbs up. "I've been talking to my Cuban friends and some of them thought that this guy really was a Cuban. Some of my friends compare his performance to Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice. The job he did is … remarkable; his [Cuban] accent is as good as Streep's Polish accent."
Is There a Latino Explosion?
Most would agree that any fault lies not with the academy for overlooking Latino performances, but with the film industry as a whole for not providing opportunities for Latino actors.