One year ago, Puerto Rican director Miguel Arteta was at home editing his film "Yes Day." Like many, he did not think the lockdown would last this long.
“This is such a difficult time for children and families, we kept thinking ‘I wish I could put this movie out now’ because it would have offered a little bit of joy, but never in our wildest dreams did we think we would still be on our lockdowns,” Arteta told NBC News about his film, which was released Friday on Netflix. “I feel very lucky that the project I was working on was something positive, that hopefully is going to help families feel a little bit of relief.”
Inspired by late author Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s book, "Yes Day" is a feel-good family movie about two parents who feel they always say no to their children. Allison and Carlos Torres, played by Jennifer Garner and Edgar Ramírez, accept the challenge of saying yes to everything their kids ask them to do for 24 hours.
Making the husband a Latino was seen as a bold move by Arteta.
“When we were discussing writing the script, I said to Jennifer, ‘would you be open to the idea of the husband being Latino?’ and it was the fastest yes that I have ever heard," said Arteta.
"Jen was completely into this idea, and so were the producers at Netflix, which was really exciting. I’ve never had a chance to cast a mixed family like that before, and I’ve been making movies for 20 years.”
It was Ramírez’s idea that his character be from his native Venezuela, with subtle but authentic tributes to Venezuelan art and cuisine, like arepas and pabellón. However, while Latinos come from different countries, Arteta sees Latinos as a united front: “We're from different cultures, but we should stick together. We come in a whole variety, we have joys and struggles, just like everybody else.”
A movie that reflects America
Arteta is a citizen of the world, raised by a Spanish mother and a Peruvian father. He remembers "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" as his favorite childhood movie. “Of course, I watched the Cantiflas movies," Arteta said, referring to the films of the late and iconic Mexican comedian, "and I love those, but there wasn’t a lot of representation when I was growing up."
Arteta would also like to encourage Latino filmmakers to “tell their story, and to not be afraid to tell it the way it is."
"People want to see themselves reflected on screen, just like this current administration wants to put people in positions of power, that look like America," Arteta said. "America is extremely diverse, and I think we lost track of that.”
"You do need those movies that talk about our struggles, and how difficult it is for Latinos in the United States," Arteta said. "But also, you need movies that simply represent how this country looks, you don’t have to necessarily even speak about it, and that was the joy about making 'Yes Day.'"
“Like here’s a family, he’s Venezuelan, the kids grew up in Los Angeles, and they’re just a multicultural family, and we don’t have to really say much about it," Arteta said about the movie's plot. "I think we live in a time where, why don’t we just show the world what the world looks like."
Hollywood still has a long way to go on Latino representation, both onscreen and off. The University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative conducted a study, ordered by Netflix, of diversity and inclusion in their U.S. original films and series released in 2018-19. The report found that only 4.5% of main cast members were Latino, even though they are the largest ethnic minority group in the U.S. and a growing share of streaming and movie audiences.
When asked what he would do if he would get a post-pandemic "Yes Day" to do what he wanted, Arteta smiled. He “would love to go to a movie theater and watch some really good movies while eating papitas fritas," or French fries.