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Andy Garcia, We Need You Again!

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I am so aware that this issue of mine is such a jingoist thing, and I am also keenly aware that I've written about it before in a different scenario, but the more we become aware of how culturally blind Hollywood is, the more they underscore their cultural stupidity.

Last year I bitched when Jimmy Smits, a superb actor on his own, was chosen to play the lead part in the CBS drama Cane. The article received a lot of comments, most of which took the focus to different points. My historical issue last year was that Jimmy Smits is a great actor, but not what your typical Cuban sugar magnate would have looked liked in the racist Cuban society of the late 1950s and the Cuban-American refugee wave of the early 1960s.

CBS picked Smits, a brilliant actor, I guess based on their perception of what a Cuban looks like (Smits is not of Cuban ancestry — his father, Cornelis Smits, was a Surinamese immigrant from Dutch Guiana, and his mother, Emilina, is Puerto Rican).

Pepe and Emilia FanjulThis is what the person that Smits' Cane character was loosely based upon really looks like…

That is him and his also Cuban wife to the left… but because, like a lot of Cubans, he looks too "Anglo" and not enough of what Hollywood (and CBS) want all of us to think that Latinos should all look like, they hired a terrific, Emmy-winning Surinamese actor who fits the sterotypical image of what Hollywood thinks Cubans should look like, to play the lead part.

Latinos are a culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse group of people, and we're not all made from one mold, as Hollywood wants you to think.

So that was then, and here's what has me all spun up in a tempest in my demitasse.

Currently my absolute favorite TV show is Showtime's Dexter. If you haven't seen this show, then go and rent seasons one and two out on DVD and then get hooked.

In the series, Michael C. Hall is absolutely brilliant as a serial killer who works as a blood expert for the Miami Metro Police while hiding the fact that he is also a serial killer. Dexter goes after bad guys, but he is still a truly disturbing psychopath pretending to be normal while killing bad guys left and right in a very orchestrated manner. Dexter is television crime drama at its best.

Because this is set in Miami, several of the regular characters in the series are portrayed as Cuban characters, such as Dexter's boss, Lt. Maria LaGuerta, played superbly by Puerto Rican actress Lauren Velez and detective Angel Batista, also played superbly by Puerto Rican actor David Zayas.

Now enter season three, which introduced a new character, that of Asst. District Attorney Miguel Prado, another Cuban character played by — yep that's right — Jimmy Smits! Smits is a terrific actor, and since by now he seems to be making quite a decent living playing Cubans on TV, the least that Showtime can do is hire some Cubans to write their Spanish dialogues for the series so that at least he can sound Cuban. I know that this is pedantic, but everytime that the "Cuban" characters speak to each other in Spanish banter, it is grating to Cuban ears to hear "non-Cuban" being spoken.

Imagine that you are watching a foreign movie, let's say a French movie… and all the dialogue is in French, and two British actors are in the film playing American parts, and every few minutes they speak to each other in English, and instead of American English coming out of their mouths, what comes out is Cockney English. That's what (in my pedantic world of Virgoes) I have to suffer every time that LaGuerta, Batista, and/or Miguel Prado talk in Spanish.

The straw that broke the camel's back a few episodes ago was when Miguel Prado (Smits) jokingly called Dexter a "filipolla" (or "gilipolla"). That's when I realized that whomever Showtime has hired to write the Spanish for the series not only has no idea about what Cuban Spanish sounds like, but also zero idea of what Latin American Spanish sounds like. Having lived in Spain for a few years in my 20s, I know what that word means, which is essentially a curse word used by Spaniards — let me repeat that: Spaniards — to mean asshole or jerk, etc.

I am almost 99% sure that no Cuban in Miami or Cuba or anywhere else in the Great Cuban Diaspora, has ever called anyone a gilipolla, unless perhaps they live in Spain and have picked up the term there… from Spaniards.

But in Miami? Naaaah…

A Cuban would have said "maricon" or perhaps "cabron." But fili/gilipolla? Nunca!

Now imagine those two Brit actors playing Yanks in my earlier French movie example, calling each other "arseholes" or "wankers."

Welcome to my pedantic hell.

And now for Showtime. My list of actor candidates who are actually of Cuban ancestry and thus a shoe-in for the part and who actually speak Spanish with a Cuban accent:

Showtime — call me.

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About Lenny Campello

  • SKU

    Can any of you understand how uncomfortable Americans are when faced with blatant Latino racism? You grade your own children by color… Cubanos are blanco? BS.
    In most parts of my country we cannot tell Cubans from PRS from Mexis from shit on the ground. And yet now thanks to Spain and our lack of will as a nation to secure our borders – we get to the enjoy the benefits of the racist latino caste system. How can we as Americans look ourselves in the face?

  • alpe

    I’m sure the text talked about something else besides hammering home how “superb” and “brilliant” Jimmy Smits is – if only I could remember it… 😉

    Seriously though, @Jean Philipe: What do you think of the ‘genuineness’ of the Haitian in “Heroes”?

  • Tomás

    The real question is…why does “Hollywood” always feel that when they have to introduce a Latino character or Latino-themed show it HAS to be a Cuban or Puertorican?

  • jeff lindsay

    believe me, i know.
    I hear it from all my friends.
    but it’s getting better — first season, i actually heard, “get in the truck, you big conyo.”

  • Jean Phillipe

    I hear you about the Cuban accent thing, I am a Haitian actor and my pedantic hell is when they hire some dude with a Jamiaican accent or Nigerian accent to play Haitian, an accent I could deliver easily, even though the role is always a demeaning voodoo priest or a drug dealer, I want the role, work is work. Also, Smits, in my humble opinion, is one of the most outstanding hispanic actors working today, with all due respect to Javier Bardem and Benicio Del Toro. Garcia is good but Smits, phony cuban accent aside, is incredible as Miguel Prado and should win an Emmy if those awards folks would do their job. But then again, I ‘ve watched them ignore all those great actors from “The Wire” arguably one of the best shows ever on HBO.