You can argue that Star Wars films were ahead of their time in offering such a diverse range of characters. But for decades, Latinx actors were absent from leading or even secondary roles – with the exception of Jimmy Smits in the prequels from the early 2000s. Fans watching The Last Jedi this weekend enjoyed seeing some of their favorite Hispanic characters light up the screen.
Film critic Alejandro Riera explains that while he celebrated the casting of Oscar Isaac, he felt Commander Poe Dameron was shortchanged in The Force Awakens. Riera says that’s not the case in The Last Jedi.
“One of the film’s many joys is watching Oscar tear into this role with gusto and charm… We leave the film feeling that Poe might take more of a leadership role in the next chapter of the saga. And given how Oscar literally takes over the movie whenever he’s on screen, that is not a bad thing.”
But it’s newcomer to the franchise, Benicio Del Toro that really caught my attention in this latest film. Film critic Carlos Aguilar explains: “The three Latino actors that emerged from this reinvention, Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, and Benicio del Toro as DJ, materialized the possibility of more inclusion. The Resistance is indeed a colorful group now, in more ways than one.”
In the previous Star Wars film it was Diego Luna’s decision to keep his thick Mexican accent that inspired this touching father and son story shared on Remezcla.
“I took my father to see Rogue One today. I wanted my Mexican father, with his thick Mexican accent, to experience what it was like to see a hero in a blockbuster film, speak the way he does. When Diego Luna’s character came on screen and started speaking, my dad nudged me and said, ‘he has a heavy accent.’ I was like, ‘Yup.’ When the film was over and we were walking to the car, he turns to me and says, ‘did you notice that he had an accent?” And I said, ‘Yeah dad, just like yours.’ He then asked me why Diego Luna hadn’t changed his accent, and I told him that Diego has openly talked about keeping his accent and how proud he is of it. And my dad was silent for a while and then he said, ‘And he was a main character.’ And I said, ‘He was.’ And my dad was so happy. As we drove home, he started telling me about other Mexican actors that he thinks should be in movies in America. Representation matters.”
Still, the bigger story here is the success of Pixar’s tale of a Mexican boy connecting with his family on Día de los Muertos. Dominating the box office in its first three weeks and earning nearly half a million dollars worldwide, Coco has convinced Hollywood that Latinos aren’t only crucial to the success of mainstream movies, we also want to see our stories told on the big screen.
I took my family to see Coco two weeks after it had already topped box offices both in the U.S. and abroad. I was surprised to find that there were still quite a few prime time showings in Spanish at my local cinema. And even more surprisingly, the theater was packed! Sure, as a city that is 41% Hispanic, Phoenix may be an exception. While it was refreshing to laugh and cry alongside others who shared similar experiences and language, I imagine the impact is much greater to those unfamiliar with the Mexican traditions brought to life in this movie.
In a time where Hispanics may be feeling marginalized and stereotyped by voices in politics and the media, it’s a powerful reminder to both Hispanics and non-Hispanics of the richness of our culture and the beauty that we have to offer. And it’s an even greater lesson to executives who may be wondering if they should take a chance on a Hispanic theme, story line, or marketing campaign. If Coco or Star Wars are any indicators of the potential of Hispanic representation done right, then it is fair to say that now is the moment to take that leap.