Javier Bardem said Spaniards are minorities – Opinion
Spain is a small country not often represented in Hollywood, but to be a minority is to take into account prejudice, discrimination and oppression.
Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz in Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Being the Ricardos’ was controversial from the start, with many criticizing Spaniard Bardem’s casting to play a Cuban-American icon. (“It’s what I do for a living,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in December. “Try to be people I’m not.”) Tuesday, after this portrait earned Bardem his fourth Oscar nomination, he defended himself against concerns he was taking away roles from minority actors via remarks echoed by the Spanish daily El País.
To translate: “Let’s talk about Spanish minorities,” Bardem said at a Feb. 8 press conference in Madrid to discuss the appointment. “How many Spanish characters exist in international cinema? Nothing. There are Latin American characters. I know what I’m talking about when I talk about minorities. And we have to support minorities, but we also have to support those of us who are also minorities, faced with the representation of other minorities.
Hollywood is in a constant conversation about whitewashing and authentic casting, but for Bardem to portray only Spaniards would leave him with few performances. Like any actor, he’s always on the hunt for a meaty role, and the opportunity to play someone as complex as Arnaz under Aaron Sorkin’s direction is rare.
Hollywood also has a long history of viewing Spanish-speaking actors and all Spanish-speaking cultures as interchangeable, be it Spain itself, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, or Cuba. Hollywood productions lack roles that delve into the people and culture of Spain, which has an extraordinarily rich history and represents 47 million people, 17 autonomous regions and nine languages in addition to the dominant Spanish.
But comparing the desire and need to have film characters from Spain, a single country, to that of wanting representation for Latin America, risks undermining a region comprising 663 million people in 20 countries – and so many other ethnic groups, including indigenous cultures, and languages within – to a cultural monolith.
Being a minority is more than numbers; Hollywood also fails to portray 46 million Argentines, and you can say the same beyond Latin America and the world: where are the 32 million Malaysians in Hollywood movies? However, to be a minority is to take into account not only the data, but also the prejudices, discrimination and oppression that these individuals experience. His fellow Spaniard Pedro Almodóvar, who became gay during the time of dictator Francisco Franco, was a member of a minority group; Bardem is not.
Certainly, Bardem experienced marginalization in Hollywood; it’s a rite of passage for anyone who doesn’t look or sound like most American actors. Last December, he drew attention to discrimination based on people’s accents, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “Why is this conversation happening with people with accents? “You have your accent. This is where you belong. It’s delicate. Where is this conversation with English speakers doing things like “The Last Duel”, when they were supposed to be French in the Middle Ages? It is very good. But me, with my Spanish accent, being Cuban? What I mean is that if we want to open Pandora’s box, let’s open it for everyone.
Fair enough – why is it okay for American Matt Damon to play a French knight using an eerie, vaguely British accent? Or for Jared Leto to do what he did in “House of Gucci”? Bardem told THR that when he came to Hollywood, he hoped his accent and background wouldn’t define him. “It’s someone’s energy that has to belong,” he said. “And make everyone understand that just because he’s a foreigner doesn’t mean you have to put him in a box.”
Bardem’s work is an extraordinary example of avoiding these boxes. He was able to negotiate race and nationality in a way that is reminiscent of the ethnically ambiguous roles that shape the careers of Vin Diesel or Dwayne Johnson while earning award recognition neither of them could. touched. Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men” – which won Bardem his first Oscar – is not coded in Latinx or Spanish. He was Bond villain Raoul Silva in “Skyfall” and Fremen leader Stilgar in Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune”, a character, like all Fremen, clearly coded as MENA (Middle East and North Africa). Meanwhile, many roles coded as Latinx continue to play into stereotypes.
The past year has been a turning point for Latinx representation in film, from “In the Heights” to “Encanto” to Ariana DeBose, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in “West Side Story,” whose the lineage is Puerto Rican, white, African American and Italian but who says she does not identify with any specific ethnicity. Hollywood still has a very, very long way to go to properly reflect the diversity of the world we live in. Viewing minorities as just a numbers game is doing a disservice to real representation and efforts to achieve it.