*Note: spoilers for Logan below*
The last edition of a long standing X-men sub-franchise, introduces an unlikely protagonist. But the biggest surprise in Logan is not that Laura (X-23) packs killer moves in a small package (the trailers give that away), but the fact that she is an unabashedly Latina character. The first time Logan hears her speak she breaks out into a long tirade in perfect Spanish. The best part is that the movie offered no subtitles. That is significant in an industry that consistently gives important Latinx roles to actors that have poor Spanish accents (see Narcos’ Wagner Moura).
Still, while the first half of the movie is set in Mexico, it falls far short of showing Latinx characters in a positive light, save Laura and her young mutant friends (including Julio Rictor who I hope to see in future X-franchise movies). The few Mexican characters we meet are often stereotypical in their portrayal (the gangsters and federales). Yet it is refreshing that the writers chose Gabriela (who saves Laura and finds Logan), to be a nurse by profession and not a nanny or maid, which is how Hollywood portrays most Latinas in this type of role (see Babel).
Latinx make up an enormous and growing portion of movie goers, oversampling at the box office.
Another movie that recently hit the box office (although with less fanfare) and did a great job portraying Latinx as educated professionals, is the bilingual rom-com Everybody Loves Somebody. The protagonist, a Mexican-American OBGYN, is played by Karla Sousa, an actress known for her Spanish and English language adaptations on the big and small screens. You might know her as Laurel Castillo in the ABC hit drama How to Get Away with Murder, but Sousa has been starring in Spanish language films for years.
Sousa’s ability to switch from English to Spanish (both with perfect accents) is reminiscent of a bicultural experience many of us either grew up with or continue within our families or circles of Latinx friends. It’s a fact lost in many adaptations of Latinx in Hollywood, where characters are usually either fresh off the boat, or so acculturated they don’t know how to speak Spanish. Unlike Logan, Everybody LovesSomebody does have subtitles. Unless you are perfectly bilingual, you are going to need them, as the actors switch from English to Spanish and back to English in rapid succession.
Latinx make up an enormous and growing portion of movie goers, oversampling at the box office. Nielsen estimates Hispanics generated $2.3 billion in box office revenue in 2015, or 21% of total sales (while Hispanics make up only 17% of the total U.S. population.) Further, a UCLA 2017 Hollywood Diversity Report shows that films with Hispanic story lines averaged a 24% Latinx audience.
Studios are starting to take notice, but they are not doing enough. We saw only two Latinos nominated for an Oscar at last month’s Academy Awards (Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto for Silence, and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda for the song “How Far I’ll Go” in Disney’s Moana). Still, if Logan is any indication of the type of protagonists we are likely to see in the next box office hits, then the future is bright for the portrayal of Latinx characters.