By the way, I also came across a bit of news this weekend that African American actor McKinley Freeman (The Closer, Days of Our Lives) has landed a recurring role in NBC’s Devious Maids as a chauffer who romances Roselyn Sanchez’s character.
I’m sure you recall back in 2005, when casting a Latina actress as a romantic interest sparked a major debate with Eva Mendes landing a role opposite Will Smith in 2005’s rom-com hit Hitch. It certainly wasn’t the first time; but in Hitch’s case, this casting decision was a strategic one made by studio producers. According to Smith, when casting two Black leads, a film will automatically be deemed a “Black” movie; therefore, producers didn’t want to take a chance in alienating audiences. And, as Smith also admitted himself, casting him opposite a Caucasian actress would have been controversial, especially in the U.S.
This issue led to some resentment, and justifiably so, from Black actresses. Nia Long, who had been in talks for some time to work with Smith, told Newsweek at the time, “Will obviously has a say, but not completely; if we can’t play the girlfriend, then Hollywood has to figure out what to do with us.” Mendes called the trend “lame;” but admitted to benefitting from it when she starred in roles opposite Denzel Washington and Ice Cube.
But, like I said, it’s hardly a new trend. I can even go back as far as the pairing of Jim Brown and Raquel Welch, who’s father is Bolivian. That film, 100 Rifles, had supposedly the first love scene ever between a Black man and a White woman. Was it really? Welch, who took her first husband’s last name in order to assimilate to a Hollywood image standard, played an Indian/Mexican woman with a strong accent in that 1969 western. Would a love scene have taken place in a film set in the U.S. with Brown and let’s say, Ann Margaret or Liz Taylor?
Prior to 2005 though, we had seen Spike Lee/Rosie Perez in 1989’s Do The Right Thing, Wesley Snipes/Jennifer Lopez in 1995’s Money Train, Laurence Fishburne/Salma Hayek in 1996’s Fled, Chris Tucker/Roselyn Sanchez in 2001’s Rush Hour 2, Cuba Gooding Jr./Sanchez in 2002’s Boat Trip, Mike Epps/Eva Mendes in 2001’s All About The Benjamins to name a few.
And speaking of Cuban American Eva Mendes, she played Denzel Washington’s romantic interest twice, first in 2001’s Training Day and in Carl Franklin’s Out of Time in 2003.
At this point, it’s unnecessary to delve into the reasons why Black actors are not paired with White women aside from romantically platonic relationships in films unrelated to race, such as Will Smith/Charlize Theron in Hancock, Denzel Washington/Angelina Jolie in The Bone Collector, Washington/Julia Roberts in The Pelican Brief and so on. A funny thing about all of this is, statistically, in real life there are more inter-racial relationships among Black Men and White women than Black Men and Latino women.
I also thought of revisiting this topic after my interview with Jamaican/Cuban filmmaker Dana Verde in THIS post, who came across stern opposition from LA producers against the pairing a Black male and a Dominican woman in a film she’s currently shopping; even if, the characters she had in mind were green-eyed Jesse Williams and “Afro-Latina” Dania Ramirez. Their reason: Black women don’t want to see a Black man and Latino woman on screen.
By the way, when was the last time we saw two major Latino actors on screen for a top billing film? Do audiences care to see Benicio Del Toro and Eva Mendes in a film that has nothing to do with being Latino? Hollywood had no objection pairing Del Toro opposite Halle Berry in Things We Lost In The Fire. We also heard minimal qualms regarding the pairing of Adam Rodriguez and Taraji P. Henson in Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself.
And unfortunately, Hollywood isn’t taking chances with the perception that, when it comes to casting two Black leads, Latino leads or hell two Asian people in love in a film, will automatically make the film designated to that particular audience.
Racist nonsense I say. To me that’s the problem. And I’m not sold on Hitch’s success being hinged upon this strategic casting of a racially ambiguous lead actress. There’s really no reason that the same exact storyline and rest of the cast wouldn’t have worked with Smith and Nia Long, Sanaa Lathan, Kerry Washington, or Halle Berry.
So, help me out here. Are we more liberal about these Hollywood pairings? Do we feel there is enough cultural assimilation to make these feasible, comfortable pairings? Is it contingent on whether the Latino actors playing opposite Black leads identify as Afro-Latino? Are we thinking, well good for Latino actors, who by the way, are not being paired with Latino counterparts in mainstream films? Is this trend marginalizing minority actors overall? Do you not care? Or, do you just not like it period?