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Pick Your Battles

5 Mar, 2013 By: Angelique Flores

I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for what I’m about to write, but here it goes.

I finally watched the Best Picture winner Argo on Blu-ray the other night, and I was impressed with producer-director-star Ben Affleck’s film. The multi-Oscar winning movie tells about CIA operative Antonio “Tony” Mendez’ rescue of six American diplomats in Tehran, Iran in 1979 during the hostage crisis. Pictured at right is Mendez (left) with Affleck (photo by Kris Connor).

Much of what I had read from pundits in the Latino community was a list of complaints: Affleck should’ve cast a Latino in the role, Affleck doesn’t look Latino, Mendez’ character was whitewashed and on and on.

I have to say that I disagree with much of these whiny grumbles.

As the producer, Affleck had the right to cast whomever he wanted, especially himself. If it wasn’t for him, the film wouldn’t have been made, and most of us wouldn't even know who Tony Mendez is or what he did.

I don’t see this situation as Affleck choosing to not cast a Latino, but rather as Affleck choosing to cast himself. If he had cast a non-Latino other than himself, then I’d probably say, yes, it was the “missed opportunity” that everybody claims it is. But this is Hollywood — who doesn’t want to keep the meaty roles for themselves, given the chance?

Not everyone is like Johnny Depp, who as Ruben Navarette Jr. points out in CNN.com turned down the role of Mexican revolutionary Francisco "Pancho" Villa, saying it should go to a Latino. Another difference here though is Villa was 100% Mexican, while Mendez is only part Mexican-American.

As far as Affleck not looking Latino, have you pundits looked at what the real Tony Mendez looks like? He looks like famed film critic and historian Leonard Maltin, who as far as I know is not Latino and has never been mistaken for one. Honestly, I don’t think Affleck looks any less Latino than the real Mendez. We come in all colors, remember? You critics are quick to point that out when it’s convenient.

Now this whole business about Mendez’ character being whitewashed and his ethnicity being ignored — really, gente? How is he being portrayed as white? To me, he is being portrayed as an American — and again, like Latinos, Americans come in all colors and ethnicities.

Argo is a film about an American hero — not a Mexican hero. Tony’s achievements were done while working for the United States, not Mexico. He was honored by the U.S. government, not the Mexican government. His ethnicity had nothing to do with his triumph in Iran, which is the focus of this movie. So why does it matter if it was pointed out that he was Mexican?

If anything, in the most important part of the film where Mendez shares intimate details of his life with the houseguests (hostages), he says his full name: Tony Mendez. Anyone with a brain would deduce the guy probably has some Latino in him. And I stress the word some, because Mendez is also part Irish, Italian and French. Has anyone complained that he isn’t Irish or Italian or French enough in the film or that these parts of his heritage were ignored? Not as far as I’ve heard.

Now, I’m not denying that Hollywood has a long, terrible history of casting non-Latinos in roles with real-life counterparts or characters who are Latinos and should have been cast as such (see La Bamba, West Side Story, Hell to Eternity). But I just don’t think that this is quite the “missed opportunity” that so many critics and journalists say it is. 

Mendez is even quoted as saying “I don’t think of myself as a Hispanic” to NBCLatino! So if the man himself doesn’t see himself as Hispanic, why are other Latinos trying to force this Hispanic-ness on him?

Latinos, look at the big picture, and do your research. This sort of bellyaching is just ridiculous and makes us look like a bunch of complainers. It sets us back with a “boy who cried wolf” syndrome for when we want to address more important issues. Let’s put our effort toward real missed opportunities.

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