The American Dream story of four young Latinos without legal U.S. status who beat top-flight universities in a national robotics competition hits theaters Friday. The timing of the new movie Spare Parts couldn’t be better following the much praised acceptance speech line from actress Gina Rodriguez, who said her Golden Globe award for her role as “Jane the Virgin” was for a “culture that wants to see itself as heroes.” One of the "Spare Parts" producers, comedian and entertainer George Lopez was in Washington, D.C., for a screening organized by Center for American Progress and promotional interviews. He spoke to NBC News Latino about the movie and other topics in the following interview, edited for clarity and brevity.
NBC: A documentary, "Underwater Dreams", told the same story and preceded this film. Why do you think it was important for this story to be a Hollywood film?
LOPEZ: I think the reach will be broader than the documentary. As a film we’ve tried to keep it as close to the true story as possible. Underdogs as heroes has been a tremendous success in Hollywood. Movies about people - trying to win a championship or love, those things never get old. I love the fact the young men did something incredible with the little resources they had. It says that things that are old school and old fashioned are still the cornerstone of making your dreams come true.
NBC: Gina Rodriguez made her comment about the community and heroes in her acceptance speech. You and others, Esai Morales, have been fighting for a long time for better representation for Latinos in movies and Hollywood. Do you think Rodriguez will be seeing an improvement compared to what you’ve seen in your career?
LOPEZ: Any change would be dramatic so her winning a Golden Globe is incredibly inspiring to young Latinas and actresses and young girls who, like she said, want to see heroes. Forget about color, women want to be heroes as well. In this time, a show on the CW like “Jane the Virgin” … is inspiring … We change a little bit every day … When we quit, you are out … There’s a lot of change and a lot of true stories going on and I was happy to be a producer to help this story come to light. I hope to have more stories that are incredible stories. It doesn’t have to be a Latino story.
NBC: That’s an important point that it doesn’t have to be a Latino story.
LOPEZ: The ideal doesn’t have to be a Latino story. When I got a TV show - it was always a struggle. I didn’t realize the color of my skin didn’t necessarily mean I would succeed, but didn’t mean I would fail. Sometimes I had to get out of my own way. I had the attitude that because of the way I looked I would never be on TV. When it did happen, I was a little disappointed in myself for having that attitude.
NBC: Did you see your own struggle in the struggles of these kids?
LOPEZ: I see so much of it. So much with being underestimated and with the father and the son, Lorenzo and his father. You have a teacher who tells you you can do good and to work hard. Every time I see this movie.
NBC: You worked on getting President Barack Obama elected and re-elected. We saw big Latino turnout for him but it was still only half the Latino vote and in the mid-terms it was a third.
LOPEZ: They’re still very leery of change. In 2008, I was out there and it was not easy and I even told the president directly. To go out there and tell Latinos to vote, and for an African American president, voting wasn’t their thing and then it was something they were unfamiliar with. But we have a duty to vote. We have women’s groups that work on women’s rights and child’s groups that work on the safety of children. The ones that can vote end up being a voice for those that cannot.
NBC: I have to ask you about one of your comedic brethren, Bill Cosby. Can you comment on the accusations against him and do you share the outrage that is out there right now?
LOPEZ: I would prefer not to. It’s just a very tragic situation. I consider Bill Cosby a friend of mine but I’ve always been supportive of women and outspoken about their rights. I don’t know enough about it and my opinion wouldn’t matter. I just have to wait and see what happens.
NBC: You are screening this movie today on the same day that Sen. Marco Rubio has released a new book in which he says the American Dream is slipping away. Do you agree that the American Dream is slipping away?
LOPEZ: I’m not a huge Marco Rubio fan. I do not feel the American Dream is slipping away. We built this country on it and it is as viable today as the first dreamers who founded the country. The more they try to take away people’s rights, Latinos, whatever, then the American Dream is challenged.