Casting Latina Actresses/Black Actors: Revisiting The Hollywood Trend

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by Vanessa Martinez
May 8, 2012 4:44 PM
36 Comments
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Denzel Washington and Eva Mendes in 2003's "Out of Time"
Alright, alright, this is not a new topic but given the latest discussion surrounding the casting of Mexican actress Kate Del Castillo as Idris Elba’s ex-wife in the upcoming thriller No Good Deed (see Tambay's post HERE), I thought I’d revisit this seemingly recurring “trend.” S&A contributor Emmanuel wrote a piece last year called, “Is Interracial Coupling on TV Meant To Soften The Blow Of Casting Black Leads?” which gives further insight on interracial coupling; his piece focused on Black/White pairings mostly.

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?

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36 Comments

  • BLACKBOYBITSBRAD1953 | May 28, 2013 9:56 AMReply

    From Tokyo,black women ARE ALWAYS cast-if they're disgusting fat,fugly,b***hy and ghetto!!!!!!

  • blackboybitsbrad1953 | May 28, 2013 9:53 AMReply

    Kyle,we black lads ARE better in bed-even at 60!!!!(Even at 60,my age on July 6.)
    Hollywood is afraid the Billy Bobs,Bubbas and dumb,long-haired skateboard brats won't watch movies if black studs are bopping white babes,so they recycle tired old white has-beens or dumb Ken dolls in lead roles while ignoring someone such as Yours Truly,with boyish good looks,a muscular build-I'm 5'9",200-205 lb. with 181/4" biceps-and a handsome black cowboy stud appearance IN AND OUT of my duds!!!!

  • kyle | August 4, 2012 2:17 AMReply

    i think that white women like black men because they think there better in bed if you know im saying now im white and a male i do not like white women i love my latin and if a women wants a man no matter what race they are let her go for it oh and try talking about white to because they got it going on two

  • SomeoneElse | May 15, 2012 12:44 AMReply

    Great article and great observations. I have noticed this trend lately myself. However, it really didn't really jump out at me until an insignificant scene in SWAT where the cops are looking for this Hispanic woman's boyfriend and is cursing them out in Spanish. With no explanation, a Black male is seen running from the cops and they start to chase the Black male. It was sort of a WTF moment like "Is that her boyfriend? The one they were looking for?" maybe I didn't pay attention closely but I just found that so outlandishly stupid. Not to say Black/Latina relationships don't happen, but as stated in the article, they are far more rare than Black male/White female relationships. I start to wonder to myself as I watch these Black/Latina pairings if Hollywood is trying to discourage Black male/White female relations and saying "Hey guys, look at these girls, have them instead."

  • LeBraun | June 11, 2012 4:05 PM

    You hit the nail on the head. This is why they are trying to build up the hotness of Latinas so that black men don't want White women anymore and think they are boring and start wanting Latina women. It makes total sense. They want to try and make the Latinas super hot and the White Caucasian woman super boring. LOL Good observation.

  • CEDI | May 10, 2012 9:07 PMReply

    It was alluded to in the article, but there is one fundamental aspect to all of this that I don't see in the conversation: THE ACTUAL DECISION MAKERS. It doesn't honestly matter how Black women feel about this or Latino actors feel about that. What matters is WHAT THE DECISION-MAKERS THINK THEY CAN EFFECTIVELY MARKET. Their perception does not have to correlate with reality. The Eva Mendes role in HITCH could have been played by a Black actress or a White actress and the story would have worked, and possibly sold just as well. It didn't happen not because America wasn't ready for it; it didn't happen because the people pulling the strings THOUGHT America wasn't ready. We can trade opinions as much as we like, but until diversity is found among those funding and distributing films, we will see the pairings they THINK will sell--period.

  • From Tokyo | May 10, 2012 3:02 PMReply

    And it's always black MEN with other women. Black women are so rarely cast in films, even compared to black men. It's a trend that extends to other media as well, including video games, films in other countries, etc. You count on either a bald or braided brother, but sisters are almost never in sight.

  • From Tokyo | May 10, 2012 3:03 PM

    And I also agree with what was mentioned about two Asian leads in a romantic film, which does not happen in the U.S. I remember mentioning that to someone myself.

  • ABP | May 10, 2012 12:48 AMReply

    okay not trying to start anything but just being honest not as a filmmaker but as a melinated person, the hispanic community seems to only get attention when they kill one of us i.e. Trayvon. I've been researching the history of Afro Hispanics and see the same color caste thing going on and erasure. I personally don't support latina/latino. Just too many murders of our people no matter what gender. The hispanic community has been mimicking us and demonizing us just like everyone else. The only film I loved that had a Latina/Afro female lead was La Colombiana because she was visible one of us. I didnt' care for the white male dynamic since they keep trying to brain wash that into us but here it was done tastefully and she was in control for the most part. My two.

  • Jordan | May 10, 2012 7:29 AM

    Please STFU. How did f$#%N Zimmerman get into this conversation? and where are all the members of the Latino community perpetrating all these hate crimes against Black people? If you went into Latino blogs that spoke about the Trayvon Martin murder, they advocated justice for Trayvon. Nobody was even claiming Zimmerman or championing him OR making this about racial resentment from Latinos to African Americans. "Just too many murders of our people no matter what gender" HUH?! WTF I guess you can say that Asian people only get attention since Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and injured 25 others at what we know now as the Virginia State Massacre, and they're just murderers. Think before you speak! It's really ignorant. If you have any, is this what you're telling your children? Stick to the article or sit the eff down!

  • carlos | May 9, 2012 10:20 PMReply

    black rappers want whores and like to degrade and objectify the Hispanic "race" as an act of domination. I honestly wish they would stop because we hispanics obviously do not like it. There are also white Hollywood perverts who get off on seeing blacks with different women to fullfill some multicultural fantasy. The black male is the focus of white obsession so please all you self obsessed afro american can stop crying. when i see just ONE short dark indigenous latino from Guatemala in a movie i'll have more sympathy

  • Nikki | May 14, 2012 8:54 AM

    Right On Carlos!!! I'm a black female and I #AGREE

  • ABP | May 10, 2012 12:50 AM

    Please don't come on here and talk your smack. Yes I'm familiar with the frozen snake tactic meaning you seem harmless until you thaw out. You have your own work to do so focus on that. Focus on why hispanics are murdering Blacks and even keeping whites from jobs here in Cali. Focus on why there is so much arrogance and biting of traditionally Black dominated musical genres and why people like you think it's okay to demonize Blacks even kill them to get ahead. Remember Zimmerman???

  • Nadine | May 9, 2012 10:56 PM

    ...self-obsessed? That is REALLY interesting, Carlos... You clearly do not have a grasp on how interconnected African-Americans are with AMERICA and how the AMERICAS were built on the backs of enslaved Africans. If you did grasp that, REALLY UNDERSTOOD what that means, you would NOT be popping off at the mouth. Their contributions to this society are MON-U-MENTAL, yet they continue to be treated as parasites and unwelcome visitors. One major problem with your thought process is that you are even equating the recent immigrant arrivals with Blacks who could almost be considered indigenous comparatively (dark indigenous latino?). African-Americans are not new members of this society, as my people are, but the economic backbone of the wealth of this country whose American pride is based on its economic power gained by not paying people to work for generations/centuries (really up until the 1960s). Right now YOU are enjoying the fruits of their battle for universal freedoms (see 14th amendment). "black rappers want whores and like to degrade and objectify the Hispanic "race" as an act of domination." - CARLOS, it is also the "Black" rappers way of showing success and lifting their self-esteem by having a "mixed race" woman (in other words, not full-black which is bottom tier) on their arms, you must know that. They're idiots, but they're not thinking about ya'll like that... now you're sounding a little self-obsessed. If you wanted to, you could also ask yourself, "WHY is the music like this when it didn't start out this way?", CARLOS. You need to be more critical with your thinking, despite your privilege, if you really want answers.

  • JMac | May 9, 2012 9:07 PMReply

    Guess I missed the "fun" on the other article. Only thing in the piece I have a problem with is the "there's little to no pairing between major Latino stars" assertion. Granted I usually only watch certain Latino males in movies [Antonio Banderas in particular] but seems to me that Hollywood has no problem putting Latino actors and actresses together romantically. Issue is more skin color ... particularly if one party appears black. As long as Banderas and Hayek are together it's cool. Banderas and Zoe? Not gonna happen. I was surprised that Penelope Cruz's boyfriend in Woman on Top was shown cheating with a black woman (and by cheating I mean screwing, lol). Maybe it also depends on whether the actor is generally considered or [can't help but] holds himself/herself out as Latino? If they're "assimilated" and considered to be white people who have no accent and may occasionally speak spanish (or not) then white Latino and plain old white groupings just don't matter. It's just as vanilla as white-white pairings. As an aside, I never considered Rosie Perez/Spike Lee as being interracial but I guess it was technically. Rosie's so "ethnic" looking it didn't really count to me and the relationship seemed so normal - not as if she was thrown in there just to make the film different or appeal to a certain segment of the population. I think the intent of the pairing is the overriding concern for me. If it appears to be a tacked on strategy then I have more of a problem with it. If the pairing is natural and germane to the story, then I want to see it and will be mad if filmmakers change it to same race just out of public pressure.

  • jacetoon | May 9, 2012 1:01 PMReply

    1. A LA Producer never lies right? The movie was rejected because they can't market it to Latin America and American Hispanics. Even if the lead had green eyes. ( I wonder did she plead this in the meeting) Which is why I brought up Our Family Wedding. A movie marketed to Latin American/American Hispanic female population and they rejected it. I brought it up because your article is about Black/non Black movie combinations. It's curious you didn't bring it up. But as you say the point of the article or the rehashing "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 ......Their reason: Black women don’t want to see a Black man and Latino woman on screen." I'm just calling BS on that weak answer. Ms. Verde for using it as an acceptable excuse (If she repeated it to you she pouting all over town about being held down by AA women) and you for giving her a platform (without even questing whether it is true or not) for half truths.

    2. "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." What the heck does even mean. You spent the first part of the article crowing about Latina Actresses staring opposite Black actors. No tears for Latino actors there, hmmmmm. I can assure you that black actresses aren't in any privileged accepted position as you are implying in this portion of your article. Your list of Latina actresses working with Black Actors in STUDIO films is longer. I can turn my television and see a variety of Latina Actresses working with Latino Actors. I can't do that with black actresses. These TWO movies are independent and not a product of Hollywood. And one of the producers of the two has a long track run of hiring black actresses and black actors to star opposite each other.


    Really less that 6% of American population (0.006 of the world population I made that up) is preventing Black male/white women and Ms. Verde's film? Really? What about the approx 88% of non black people. I think they are a more profitable bunch your article didn't even address that..but that was the point wasn’t it.

  • Vanessa | May 9, 2012 1:19 PM

    yes Jacetoon, that was a weak answer from the producers! I wasn't trying to say they were right. Verde knew this was a weak answer as well. I think you're misunderstanding my intentions in writing this article. She wasn't "pouting all over town" about Black women holding her project down. BTW, she finally settled on a Black woman from Cape Verde, which was her original idea. She had thought of Dominican, because she has Dominican girlfriends who she could model the character after after she kept hearing that many ppl couldn't related to someone being from Cape Verde, because they didn't know where it was. That's all.

  • Fred | May 9, 2012 12:12 AMReply

    Good post, Vanessa. Just a small correction: Sanchez was Jackie Chan's romantic interest in Rush Hour 2. Also, it's interesting to point out that Hollywood just doesn't really like hiring Latino actors as leads period. Today WB released the trailer for Ben Affleck's Argo. In that movie Affleck plays the main character who is a real C.I.A. agent that lead a mission to rescue Americans that were being held hostage. That man Affleck is playing is Latino and his name is Antonio Mendez. It really shocks me that little has been written about how blatantly Affleck and George Clooney (who co-produced the film) just ignored American actors of Latino descent outright. Could've been a great chance for a Latino actor as a lead role in a big Hollywood film. Not anymore. Tambay thought it worthy to mention that in the upcoming movie The Dark Knight Rises, the character of Bane in the comics is Latino but is not being played by one. It would be nice to also mention this seeing as how the movie is especially in talks of supposedly being a possible Oscar contender.

  • dean | May 8, 2012 11:11 PMReply

    Let's pair black men with black women--not mixed or mulatto women--with black women.

  • T | May 9, 2012 1:22 PM

    I agree

  • jacetoon | May 8, 2012 10:24 PMReply

    "Their reason: Black women don’t want to see a Black man and Latino woman on screen."

    A long winded article that mixes half truths and creative dot connecting to blame black women for the ills of black actors and now Latina actresses. This time by Ms. Martinez. Bravo. Our Family Wedding. Geared toward Hispanic women/general audiences and you know what? It freaken' tanked. 7 million opening 20 million total gross. Imma bet if i mosey on over to Latin/a based site i won't find any long winded articles blaming the other half.

  • Melissa | May 9, 2012 6:29 AM

    Next up: Black women enslaved black men, were not enslaved themselves and therefore had no role in the creation of what is now known as 'Latino'.

  • Melissa | May 9, 2012 6:23 AM

    Her article bugged me as well to be honest. But I am not surprised! All these articles always blame black women. We seem to have a lot of racist opinions, purchasing power and say in what movies get made lol. i didn't know! Damn we're powerful.

    On a more serious note, black women are not the ones throwing bananas at black football players in spanish teams. Neither are we the ones who separate 'Dominican' from 'black' as if there are no Afro-Dominicans. Neither are we the ones that shoot unarmed black teenagers (Zimmerman was half-hispanic.)

    YET we are the ones who dont want to see these pairings? Get outta here! lol. These movies often tank but don't put the blame on the evil black women. We're not the only ones *not watching* them. I guess its just easier to assign blame to those who get blamed for just about everything. The conspiracy continues.

  • Vanessa | May 8, 2012 10:42 PM

    No Jacetoon. That statement came about my interview with Dana Verde; that was the sole objection from Black producers to her suggestion of casting a Dominican actress and a Black American actor. That was not my opinion. In no way I'm, "blaming Black women for the ills of Black actors and now Latina actresses." Not even close. You must've not read the post through, and if you did, you totally misconstrued it. By the way, this piece was just to revisit a "trend," and perhaps explore and discuss. I'm aware of Our Family Wedding...I guess I'm missing the point of you bringing that film up.

  • misha | May 8, 2012 9:38 PMReply

    Man, I was all ready to add my 2 cents on this topic earlier and then...poof! The article was gone. :/ I was especially annoyed because I didn't get the chance to mock AV's terribly flawed argument...again. ;) Alas, it was not to be! Anyhow, there is soo much I could say about this topic but I'm tired and I've said it all before, really. However, let me just say that the stigma attached to the label "black film" is steeped in so much ignorance that it actually makes me sad to see black folk buying into said stigma.

  • Kid chaos | May 8, 2012 9:28 PMReply

    White men do not want to see there women with black men.I wish that black women would try not to look like white women

  • Orville | May 8, 2012 8:28 PMReply

    I think Hollywood is more fearful of pairing a black man with a white woman so the Latina woman is viewed as more palatable. However, I must comment I find America bizarre racial classification system. Latino or Hispanic is not a racial group or category yet in America these people are treated as though they are race. It is simply very weird and strange to have this kind of racial classification that is really just about a culture.

    Most of the Latinos in the United States are actually white Hispanics. For instance, Cameron Diaz is a white Hispanic yet she is never really viewed in Hollywood as a Hispanic she is seen as a white woman. Why is that? Jennifer Lopez I think she's a white Hispanic or mostly white yet she is viewed as not being white even though her mother Guadeloupe descendants are from Spain.

    For one thing Hispanic or Latino is not a race it refers to culture. Also, there are black, white, and Asian latinos in North and South America. I think Hollywood prefers the mixed race Latina women such as Zoe Saldana and Rosario Dawson because they think they can appeal to a wider demographic than a black actress with pure black heritage.

  • CEDI | May 10, 2012 9:12 PM

    Thank you for pointing this out; this particular irony is usually lost upon these kind of conversations. I'd agree that some Hollywood circles think 'Black Latinas' are more widely marketable than African-American actresses. But there are just as many Hollywood circles that simply consider Zoe "Black" and Rosario "Latina" and categorize (or pigeon-hole) them accordingly.

  • Melissa | May 8, 2012 6:34 PMReply

    Black men are paired with Latino women to make up for the latent but greater incidences of pairing those black actresses you mentioned, with white men. Of course black men are not going to be paired with full blown white women. But they have to be compensated somehow for all the Monster's Ball, Something New, Lakeview Terrace, Bronx Tale, Last King of Scotland (white men hooking up with black women that is)... so the supposed compensation is where Euro-Latina and Asian women come in.

    Most moviegoers who control these mainstream images are white males. Those producers are lying, it has nothing to do with what black women want. If it were, we would be leading the films, with or without males! :)

  • CareyCarey | May 8, 2012 5:57 PMReply

    @ Nadine, that was a good line... very interesting indeed! But "prodigal"? We'll have to talk about that. If you're referring to something profuse or wasteful or squandered, I'll borow a line from Tambay's post "Lena Dunham Addresses "Girls" Diversity Criticism & Why I Just Don't Care". Now, I CareyCarey JUST DON'T CARE! I mean, although I wanted to cus out Vanessa for losing the orignal post (because I spent 1 hour writing my comment :-O) I am so tired of "race matters" finding their way in several discussion involving black films. However, since I did spend part of my early morning hours writing a comment, I'll write a short(er) one here. Well, it seems like the common or accepted blame for the failure of black films and/or the reasons behind the "accepted" pairing of interracial couple, falls on the backs of racist, bigots and wrong thinking white folks. Now, I am back to say that's a bunch of pure MALARKEY! Yeah, a bunch of BS. I believe I embelished my argument by using a quote: "It's called taste for a reason--my flavor ain't always your flavor--and I'm not about to sit up here and defend why I like salty and not sweet - Traci R. I am suggesting that white folks are not necessarily racist or bigots because they do not desire spending their money to watch Tyrone make love to Betty Crocker. I am wrong if I prefer mysteries over horror films? And black women are not narrow minded nor racist if they do not enjoy the pairing of any race of women that does not match theirs (as one commenter suggested). I believe there's nothing wrong with those who gravitate toward individuals who look like them and those who has shared the same struggles of life. It's just innate human nature to desire the feeling of "belonging". And I've said this befoore -- it's my belief that anything, or more importantly anyone, who runs contrary to that belief/feeling/concept, is not welcomed and surely not rewarded by those who just don't care to seek first to understand. Btw, if you think my comment was long, you know Accidental Visitor had 3 times as much to say on this, his favorite topic :-). C'mon now, whenever the topic is related to interracial pairings, he IS THE MAN.

  • Vanessa | May 8, 2012 4:49 PMReply

    The article was deleted by mistake! So I'm reposting...Too bad I lost all of the comments. :-/

  • Nadine | May 8, 2012 4:47 PMReply

    Muy interesante... the prodigal article returns. ;)

  • CareyCarey | May 8, 2012 11:25 PM

    I must have missed the party? What time did that jump off? Damn, Vanessa in rollers and Nadine cussing like a drunk sailor... that's entertainment. Nadine, how about a slight encore?

  • Nadine | May 8, 2012 11:09 PM

    ...but I would say everything again...just not laced with profanities..pardon, as many profanities... (again, blame Twelve Years...).

  • Nadine | May 8, 2012 5:12 PM

    I SURE WAS! I was kind of glad that it was deleted... ;)

  • Vanessa | May 8, 2012 5:02 PM

    Nadine, you were misbehaving all over this post. I was going to come out in my rollers and yell for you to get back in the house! ;-)

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