“The Butler” has catapulted to the top of the box office largely because of the poignant way the film addresses black-white race relations in America, but actress Yaya DaCosta – who plays character Carol Hammie – says the movie has plenty to offer Latino audiences as well.
“The world isn’t simply black or white,” says DaCosta, a Brown University graduate who is of Brazilian and African-American descent. “And racism is still prevalent, both in subtle and more insidious ways. My child’s reality will be different from mine, but I think that makes knowing our history that much more important.”
As a mom-to-be – the former model proudly rocked her baby bump at the film’s premiere – DaCosta looks back on “The Butler” as a project in which she was able to re-enact several aspects of her own family’s history.
“The main thing that attracted me to this project was my personal family history, that feeling of knowing that perspective of race and struggle,” says DaCosta, whose father was an organizer with The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the ’60s. “I grew up knowing that my dad was very active in the movement so reenacting those scenes was emotional and exciting at the same time – I felt pressure to get it right.”
Adding to the appeal of the film, says DaCosta, were mega-watt co-stars Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker, Lenny Kravitz and Cuba Gooding, Jr.
“There was one time I was at the table in the dinner scene and I was just watching Forest work on his delivery and it was so inspiring,” shares DaCosta of Whitaker, who plays White House butler Cecil Gaines. “I had to remind myself to snap into character because I felt like an audience member. He’s just so talented and his subtleties are where his power lies. It was great to be reminded that these famous people are actors – they come to set to work. Neither he or Oprah brought any stuff with them. No entourage, no attitude …we were all equals.”
Partially accounting for Whitaker and Oprah’s humility on set was their belief that “The Butler” was a story worth telling, says DaCosta, who says she is not considered for typically “Latina” roles because of her dark skin and hair texture.
“They felt this script was good,” the 30-year-old divulges. “And that above anything, it was important for them to be a part of it.”
The support of the film’s actors to move it forward is a lesson DaCosta hopes Hispanic filmmakers and actors take to heart. After all, even ‘The Butler” – which earned $25 million last weekend –initially struggled to get financing.
“I want to see more films that reflect how our communities look and sound like,” says DaCosta when questioned whether Latino films might ever reach the mainstream success that black movies like “The Butler” have received. “What’s it going to take that make that happen? Money and connections have a lot to do with it, but I think as long as people have good script and a vision, even a really great project can be made guerilla style.”
“In terms of a movement, I think people should create art and begin to make projects that really depict how diverse Latino America is.”