Here we go again.
Ben Affleck’s decision to cast himself as CIA operative Tony Mendez in “Argo,” a film that Affleck directed and produced with George Clooney and Grant Heslov, is hitting the Latino blogosphere again.
In October, there was a little controversy as to why Affleck, a non-Latino (nope, dating JLo doesn’t instantly make you Latino), played Mendez in the movie. Much has been written about how Affleck’s casting decision was just another example of typical Hollywood whitewashing. For example, award-wining producer Moctesuma Esparza’s piece called “Ben Affleck’s Argo and the White-Washing of the Mexican-American” sums it up nicely. You had me at the title, Mr. Esparza.
After not addressing the issue for months, Affleck finally responded to a straight up question about the controversy to the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA). Here is a snippet of what he said:
“You know, I obviously went to Tony and sought his approval…was the first thing. And Tony does not have, I don’t know what you would say, a Latin/Spanish accent, of any kind really, and… you know you wouldn’t necessarily select him out of a line of ten people and go ‘This guy’s Latino.’ So I didn’t feel as though I was violating some thing, where, here’s this guy who’s clearly ethnic in some way and it’s sort of being whitewashed by Ben Affleck the actor. I felt very comfortable that if Tony was cool with it, I was cool with it.”
Affleck added the following later:
“It raises issues of assimilation, and ‘What are our goals?’ ‘What are we shooting for?’ and ‘What sort of integrity do we have to have with playing parts that are of other ethnicities?’ Obviously, there are ways where it’s obvious it can be ridiculous, but that’s not what we’re talking about … but actually I don’t think you have to be Croatian to play Croatian. I think the most important thing… the two most important things… about this issue are: 1. We do have to maintain a strong presence of Latino roles, African-American roles in our national culture of drama and 2. that those parts don’t become… minimized or indeed marginalized… And, I think those stories are interesting and need to be told. And for me I was like, as an actor, Ben Affleck, I just wanted to play the part so much, because it’s such a great part.”
Here is where Affleck fails:
He associates “Latino” with being “ethnic,” and even though Tony Mendez felt cool about it (I mean, come on, if someone were going to play you in a movie, you might be excited, too), Affleck’s logic has no logic.
Affleck had a chance to “maintain a strong presence” of Latino roles his own movie, but he didn’t. Instead of casting a Latino actor, he cast himself. So diversity is cool, except for when it your own movie, Ben? Por favor.
This is another case of Hollywood “whitewashing,” no matter how much spin Affleck gives us. Have you ever seen the comparison between Affleck’s character and the real Mendez? I would have respected Affleck more if he just said, “It was a great role and I wanted to play Tony Mendez,” and moved on. Instead we get this really perplexing and convoluted explanation that presents so many misperceptions of the U.S. Latino experience.
Ben, please don’t insult our intelligence. Your explanation was bizarre. You missed a huge opportunity to move the needle, and you didn’t. But hey, it is your movie. Just don’t expect to get off the hook for this one.
Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77 ) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. This year, Julito represented the Rebeldes on Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.