‘Batgirl’ Cancellation, James Franco Show Hollywood’s Latino Erasure

It wasn’t a great week for Latinos in Hollywood, but I’m sure many of you knew that already.

Between Warner Bros. axing the release of “Batgirl” starring Leslie Grace, HBO Max canceling the coming-of-age comedy TV series “The Gordita Chronicles” and James Franco being cast as Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in an upcoming feature, Latinos are being mercilessly discarded and overlooked in the entertainment business. Worse yet, not many seem to care.

Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav addressed the controversial “Batgirl” decision during this week’s company earnings call, saying, “we’re not going to put a movie out unless we believe in it.”

Zaslav may not have realized how much truth he shared in that sentence.

Indeed, Hollywood doesn’t believe in Latino stories, creators or feelings. That’s a fair assumption based on our treatment in the business up to this point. However, this isn’t just the way we “feel.” Concrete data backs it up.

The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released its findings on the absence of Hispanic and Latino representation in the film industry in September 2021. Its findings were even worse than many suspected. An examination of the 1,300 top-grossing films released in the US in the last 13 years found only six Afro-Latino leads or co-leads in the time period. Even more so, less than 5% of more than 52,000 characters examined had speaking parts.

Wouldn’t that have been a wake-up call? Obviously not.

In the last decade, with controversies such as #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite highlighting the longstanding inequality in the Hollywood ranks, executives and producers have hit the press circuit, sharing their new “unbridled focus” on creating “welcoming” and “nurturing” environments, all with the added promise to “do better.”

It’s been mostly lip service.

Leslie Grace, star of the canceled production “Batgirl”

Being sympathetic to the persistent hemorrhage of people losing their jobs at WarnerMedia over the last two years, especially in the aftermath of the closed acquisition merger in April, a quick scan might have provided context clues as to why the company canceled what was supposed to be the first Afro-Latina-led superhero film. This is the same studio that faced criticism for the lack of Afro-Latino representation with “In the Heights.”

There was palpable excitement and enthusiasm for “Batgirl,” even if many of us acknowledged we weren’t anticipating the “Citizen Kane” of the DCEU. Grace, the Dominican breakout star from “In the Heights,” was moving towards her most significant moment in Hollywood, one that could have young Latinas seeing themselves represented on screen for the first time.

Now, with the rug pulled out from under us, should Latinos just accept this as a possible quality issue or, worse yet, a way to catch a simple tax break? Should Latinos begin to prepare for any other Latino-themed projects, such as the Mexican superhero film “Blue Beetle” starring Xolo Maridueña, to face a similar fate?

And when we thought it couldn’t get any more ridiculous, a headline that reads like an Onion article emerges — “James Franco to Play Cuban Revolutionary Fidel Castro in Indie Film ‘Alina of Cuba’.”

The sighs and eye-rolling were significant. Sexual misconduct allegations and recent settlement aside (still believe cancel culture exists?), I found myself Googling Franco’s ethnic roots to see if I may have missed if the Portuguese-Swedish-Russian actor had newfound Latino roots. He doesn’t.

Criticism came swiftly from social media users and Hollywood figures such as Oscar-winning Cuban producer Phil Lord (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) and Emmy-winning Colombian actor John Leguizamo.

Some users tried to point out inconsistencies with Leguizamo’s criticism, by pointing to his previous role as Italian plumber Luigi in 1993’s “Super Mario Bros.” However, aside from Luigi not being a real-life figure responsible for murdering thousands of his people, there continues to be a fundamental failure to understand the underrepresentation of marginalized groups, such as Latinos, and how they cannot consistently see themselves in media. Some have even tried to call out Cuban actress Ana de Armas’ upcoming portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde,” evidently missing out on the multiple portrayals of the classic starlet throughout the decades.

This asinine logic continues to permit Latino roles to continue to be occupied by non-Latino actors such as Javier Bardem (Spanish) playing Desi Arnaz in “Being the Ricardos,” whose cousin, Miguel Bardem, is directing the Franco vehicle “Alina of Cuba .”

It remains unclear when the excuses will end for Latino exclusion. With Netflix recently laying off nearly all of its agency employees for Con Todo, its Latino-focused platform for content and audience, it looks like Hollywood still has a ways to go in terms of equality.

Latinos are not disposable and are not culturally ambiguous. Latinos are 500 million people that span the globe. Learn about us.

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