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Analysis: Plenty of Latino-Themed Films Could Be Made and Be Oscar Bait

Image: Sean Penn, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Presenter Sean Penn, left, and filmmaker Alejandro Iñárritu pose in the press room after winning multiple awards including best original screenplay, best director and best picture for “Birdman. Jordan Strauss / AP

The #OscarSoWhite diversity chatter is reaching an apex in the media sphere and perhaps no other voice was more loudly heard than George Clooney’s this week.

“But honestly, there should be more opportunity than that. There should be 20 or 30 or 40 films of the quality that people would consider for the Oscars. By the way, we’re talking about African Americans. For Hispanics, it’s even worse. We need to get better at this. We used to be better at it.”

RELATED: George Clooney Joins Chorus of Criticism Over Lack of Oscars Diversity

For context, Clooney spoke to Variety specifically about the Oscar’s bewildering omission of African American nominees for the second straight year. He went on to also reflect on the overall lack of diversity in Hollywood and brought light upon the low percentages of Hispanic actors being nominated or winning an Oscar, compared to African American actors, and clearly, white actors.

Regrettably, Clooney brings up a grim truth, one that is difficult to fathom and intimidating to confront. Historically, Hispanics have rarely been nominated for Oscars in the acting categories. Since 1929, the year of the first Oscar ceremony, only 32 Hispanic actors have been nominated, eight have won, last one being Penélope Cruz in 2009 for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”.

But what can one do when the Oscar voters are 94 percent white, 76 percent men, with an average of 63 years in age. In other words, the Academy membership is composed of old white men. Latinos and blacks only make up 2 percent of that base.

Oscars: George Clooney Joins Chorus of Criticism Over Lack of Diversity 0:24

As of late though, there is a silver lining and that is behind the cameras. Last year the Best Picture Oscar award went to Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, amongst other wins, and this year, Latinos are up for a total of four Oscar awards.

But that is not enough. When deserved, we should see more Hispanic actors nominated. Take for example Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro. He could have been nominated this year for his bone-chilling performance in the terrifying film “Sicario,” the best movie of the year in my opinion.

And to Clooney’s point, what about quality Hispanic themed stories? Once in a while you’ll see one or two creep up such as “Chavez,” “McFarland, USA,” or “Our Brand Is Crisis,” three decent films that don’t embarrass our culture unlike 20th Century Fox’s “Chasing Papi” from 2003. Nevertheless, these are fairly low to modest budget films with no serious aspirations at Oscar’s top prize.

A Sonia Sotomayor biopic . . . Think female success story meets courtroom drama.

Is there a lack of creativity in Hollywood pitches or are studio heads unwilling to green light them? Is the fear that Latino themed films aren’t profitable or that non-Latino audiences won’t watch them?

If motion picture studios are lacking ideas, here are several suggestions that should not only attract a broad stroke of movie-going audiences, but could be Oscar bait as well.

  • The story of how Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella funded Christopher Columbus voyage to America: Before Columbus set sail to discover America, his request for funding his voyage was rejected by Portugal, France and England. It was Spain who ultimately bankrolled his trip. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella took a risk and changed the world in the process. America’s first settlers from Europe were Hispanic. This would be an epic film that could be directed by Cuarón or Iñárritu. Think Ridley Scott’s “1492: Conquest of Paradise” meets Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth” starring Cate Blanchett. The story of the discovery of America has never been told from the Hispanic perspective. Javier Bardem plays the King and Penélope Cruz plays Queen Isabella, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. How about that?
  • A Sonia Sotomayor biopic: First Latina Supreme Court Justice who has already contributed historic and polemic decisions on same-sex marriage, the Confederate Flag and free speech, amongst others. It could be an inspirational and empowering drama about women and the topics that are affecting our country today. Think female success story meets courtroom drama.
  • A Roberto Clemente biopic: There is nothing more American than the sport of baseball and Pittsburgh Pirate legend Roberto Clemente, from Puerto Rico, was one of the all-time greats of the game. He died in the most noblest of ways, in a plane crash while helping bring relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua in 1972. He is one of the first Hispanic players enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame with numerous awards and records. Think Jackie Robinson’s “42” meets “La Bamba”.

I applaud Clooney for propelling the predicament of Hispanic actors in Hollywood into the national conversation, but paradoxically, he has also been one of the culprits in propagating the point at issue.

Out of the five films he has directed so far, not one single Hispanic actor was cast in a key role. Even the recent English language movies of our own Hispanic directors such as Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro are scarce of Hispanic actors. Why is that? The only answer I can gather is there are not enough bankable Hispanic thespians to choose from, to carry a movie across all cultural demographics. Why hasn’t Michelle Rodriguez gotten her first lead role yet? Will Gina Rodriguez be the next major Latina star since Jennifer Lopez?

The absence of Hispanic actors in Hollywood films is a slough that ultimately challenges our identity and place in this country and we must rectify the problem if we are ever going to upend the status quo.

As Clooney reminds us by at least having the conversation, we can inch closer to honoring what the true purpose of movies is - a communal experience where our stories can be experienced no matter the language, religion, or ethnic background; an inspirational medium where only the imagination is the limit.

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