KEVIN TIDMARSH: This one is the fire road – lemme just double check.
CHRISTOPHER RIVAS: I mean, it's one going up, so it's probably it. I would assume.
CHRIS: This is me and my producer Kevin. We’re hiking up a gravel path, underneath the Iconic Hollywood sign. It’s in Los Angeles, a place called Griffith Park.
CHRIS: It’s named in honor of the man who donated this land to Los Angeles. His name was – get ready for this – Griffith J. Griffith. Yes, his first and last name are both Griffith. Also, if I’m being honest, this land was the home of the Tongva tribe, something like 3500 years ago. But they were colonized by the Spanish in the 1770s. And then we all know how that story goes. They were pushed off their land, enslaved, forced to adopt a belief system that wasn’t their own. And now we have Hollywood.
CHRIS: As you can probably tell, the hike up to the sign is pretty steep. Yes, I need to do more cardio. I don’t wanna talk about it.
Chris: It's kind of blah. It's mainly a paved road the whole way. And so as I get closer to this famous Hollywood sign, I realize that the road leads to the back of the sign, which is now blocked by a ton of fencing and a giant radio tower. So it's like the closer I get to the sign, the less I can actually see it. And there's definitely no way I can touch it.
And then we made it up to the sign. Well, the back of the sign.
CHRIS: Ah, there it is.
KEVIN: Yeah, nice.
CHRIS: I caught my breath. And I started thinking more about how this experience was like a metaphor for Hollywood itself.
CHRIS: For every big white towering letter up here, for every big white story told by Hollywood, there’s likely a story that’s been forgotten down below, a story that’s been trampled on, a story that allows me to stand here. Like the Tongva that used to live here way before the Spanish colonizers. Way before the American ranchers that took it next. Way before Griffith Griffith. It's just one story piled on top of the other. But the one that gets put up on top of the hill with these big white letters – emphasis on the white – always seems to want to forget what came before it.
CHRIS: Today… we’re gonna talk about Hollywood. The place I make a living, the place I made my home. And a place that has been historically reluctant to center the stories of black and brown people up on the silver screen…the stories of people like Rubi.
ISABELLA: He was Dominican. Come on, I want to hear that.
[Theme music enters.]
CHRIS: Isabella Wall has spent years trying to get Hollywood to tell his story.
ISABELLA: It would be good for us. It would be good for me as a Dominican, for the simple reason that why not?
CHRIS: That’s the question: Why not? Why don’t stories like Rubi’s get made into Hollywood blockbusters?
I’m Christopher Rivas. This is Rubirosa Episode Five: The Gap.
[Theme music fades down.]
CHRIS: One of the stories about Rubi that haunts me most is that he tried to make it in Hollywood. He wanted to be an actor. It makes sense, right? I mean come on, can’t you imagine Rubi’s charming grin on the big screen?
MARTY: Think of the guy we're talking about.
CHRIS: Here’s Marty Wall, Isabella’s husband, and co-author of Chasing Rubi.
MARTY: Think everything that he does, boxing, shoots, rides, horses, races, cars, it's like, you know, he's an action hero.
CHRIS: In 1954, there were some folks in Hollywood who agreed. Rubi had what’s known as leading man potential.
MARTY: He was going to make a Western.
ISABELLA: And it was going to be with Zsa Zsa Gabor.
ZSA ZSA GABOR (ARCHIVAL): Isn’t this a lovely party I’m giving? I’m so glad I could come.
CHRIS: Zsa-Zsa Gabor — the Hungarian-American actress and socialite. She was Rubi’s girlfriend at the time. They were set to co-star in a cowboy film called The Western Affair.
MARTY: …where he was the horse riding gunslinging sheriff of the town or something, and she was the damsel in distress.
CHRIS: Actually, Rubi was set to play Don Castillo, an elegant gambler and owner of a bar who falls in love with a French heiress. Zsa Zsa would, of course, play the heiress. And according to papers at the time, Rubi and Zsa Zsa were already at a ranch together, getting into character, preparing for their big roles. She was learning how to twirl a gun. And Rubi?
MARTY: He was taking acting lessons from Humphrey Bogart.
CHRIS: Actually we think the acting lessons were from someone else. Bogart was just someone Rubi would call for advice. But either way, I love this! That’s like me calling up Daniel Day Lewis and asking for some tips. (DDL, if you're listening, hit me up, I’m easy to find).
I can only imagine how excited Rubi must have been. Becoming a Hollywood actor would have been a huge step for Rubi, bringing together everything he loved and was good at: glamor, money, star power, fame, action. And by the way, one of the alternative titles for the script was “Rubi Rides Again.”
But before the filming could start, the project was killed. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to issue Rubi a visa to work in the US.
The INS gave an official sounding reason, that certain conditions had “not been met.” But I’ve got a theory. Here was Rubirosa, a Brown man who’s been swooping up all of America’s most famous, and richest, white women. What happens if he becomes a movie star? He sweeps up even more of America’s white women, maybe even finally convinces Americans that there’s nothing to fear from an immigrant? Can’t have that, so they deny Rubi’s request for a visa.
MARTY: It was either somebody in the FBI, but somebody was telling somebody to make sure that they didn't issue that work permit to Rubirosa. It was kind of their way of saying, you're not you're not coming into this country and making money doing that. You're already stealing money from our wealthy women. [laughs] I bet he was extremely disappointed by that.
CHRIS: Coincidentally, that same year, James Bond makes his first leap from books to film. A TV movie version of Casino Royale comes out.
BARRY NELSON AS JAMES BOND: Look, would you get me some chips?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Why certainly, Mr. Bond.
CHRIS: That’s right. At the same time that Rubi is being denied a shot at mainstream Hollywood success, a white guy gets to play James Bond, a character with eerily similar vibes to Rubi! Wild, huh?
Rubi the man wasn’t allowed permission to become a movie star in America. But what about his life story? It’s no longer the 1950s, and his life is exciting and worth telling, right?
MARTY: I remember very early on, there was a gentleman that we got a meeting with at HBO who was a VP or higher of programming development, and we had a wonderful conversation with him…
CHRIS: Remember, Marty and Isabella wrote their book so they’d have something to pitch to Hollywood.
MARTY: One of the things that I remember him saying was, you know, there's hardly going to be a scene in this movie without Rubirosa in it. And he said, you know, we're not comfortable with a Latin actor being able to carry this, or in his words, put butts in seats.
CHRIS: Hollywood in the early 2000s is feeling a lot like Hollywood in the 1950s. Let’s be honest, they’re worried about white butts not buying tickets to see a movie about a Brown hero. Well, unless they could get the ONE Brown guy with that star power:
ANTONIO BANDERAS AS ZORRO: Only one question…how would you like your remains displayed?
MARTY: HBO mentioned that it's going to take somebody like Antonio Banderas to actually be able to lead this.
CHRIS: That’s right. It’s Antonio Banderas or nothing. And he’s not even Latino, he’s Spanish.
But it wasn’t just about star power. The producers Marty met with struggled to even envision Rubi’s story on the screen.
MARTY: It's a Latin story and it's a Latin story where some people might see this Latin gigolo as taking advantage of, you know, rich American women and Americans and so on, so. I think the other issue, too, he's not really a great – he's not a good guy. You know, he's got a lot of issues, and he's really in it for himself.
CHRIS: Marty’s not wrong. Rubi’s got issues. He ain’t just a playboy. He’s tangled up with a dictator who slaughtered thousands, he sells passports to needy people for cash, and he's got a complicated track record with women. But since when did movies not deal with complicated characters? Often those films even end up being massively successful.
MARLON BRANDO AS VITO CORLEONE: And as a reasonable man I’m willing to do whatever is necessary to find a peaceful solution to these problems.
CHRIS: Take the Godfather…
LEONARDO DICAPRIO AS HOWARD HUGHES: I won’t sell TWA! I WONT!
CHRIS: Or Howard Hughes in The Aviator. Then there’s TV shows…
JON HAMM AS DON DRAPER: What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.
CHRIS: You’ve got Don Draper…
BRYAN CRANSTON AS WALTER WHITE: Say my name.
LOUIS FERREIRA AS DECLAN: Heisenberg.
BRYAN CRANSTON AS WALTER WHITE: You’re goddamn right.
CHRIS: And Walter White, your friendly neighborhood meth dealer who only murders people occasionally.
So yeah, there is room in the mainstream for characters who have “issues” or are in it “for themselves.” I mean, you might even say audiences are drawn to these kinds of flawed characters. Succession anybody?
So it’s frustrating to me that Isabella Wall says she heard a lot of skepticism around Rubi because he’s complex.
ISABELLA: They blame him that he's not a hero and nobody should care about his story because he didn't do anything about these bad people. And I don't think that's fair. I personally don't think that fair. I'm not going to say that he was a saint, but neither was James Bond.
CHRIS: James. Bond. Another complicated hero! Bond is a womanizer who sacrifices any sort of normal life for his sense of duty to his country, but that didn’t stop the franchise from becoming one of the most successful franchises of all time.
DR. LISA FUNNELL: I think that in the 1960s, they found that magic in the bottle. James Bond came out and really helped to define the spy genre.
CHRIS: This is Dr. Lisa Funnell. She’s an expert in all things Bond, but like me, she enjoys taking a more critical look at the franchise. She even teaches a class on gender and James Bond. Her students call her Dr. 007.
DR. LISA: And it's interesting because I want to get a vanity plate that says Dr. 007…
CHRIS: Yeah, you totally should!
DR. LISA: …but everybody would be able to find me. [giggles] So…
CHRIS: Lisa is a huge fan of the Bond movies – she grew up watching them with her dad. She fell in love with the stories, just like me.
DR. LISA: He became a global popular cultural phenomenon before the rise of the Internet, before the rise of DVD players and Betamax players and anything else that you could utilize. And I think it was pretty remarkable at the time being that type of a trendsetter.
CHRIS: And that trend is still going strong. With 25 films across six decades, James Bond is the fifth-highest grossing film series in history – behind Marvel, Star Wars, Spider-Man and Harry Potter. So James Bond is crazy successful, but the story of the real life brown guy he’s based on – well that doesn’t have any traction. What’s up with that?
ISABELLA: It's a Latino main character, really. Tell me when was the last time that an entire movie was carried by a Latino?
CHRIS: Now, of course I can tell you about some films carried by Latinos! Selena. Stand and Deliver. Real Women Have Curves. There are more. But the list is not that long. To Isabella, and to me, it seems like Hollywood is willing to give more moral leeway to white characters. I mean all those very “complicated” guys I listed before, they’re all white. Walter White even has white in his name! James Bond kills people with impunity, and we all know the powers that be do not want Black and Brown people doing that on a screen. Whether it's in a 1950s cowboy film, or a 21st century spy action thriller, a person of color with a license to kill is America's worst nightmare.
Here’s Lisa again.
DR. LISA: Our culture tends to give us stories of privilege. It tends to repeat them time and time again. And look at what Hollywood is doing now. It's, “let's rewrite the same stories over and over and over again.”
CHRIS: When a culture is inundated with an endless cycle of these stories of privilege, we feel the consequences.
DR. LISA: Our culture then sends messages about what is considered the norm, the standard. It binds individuals to institutions together. And it plays a massive role in terms of presenting and maintaining the status quo and presenting and maintaining very specific ideologies.
CHRIS: Telling the same stories over and over again puts limits on the things we can imagine. And if we can’t imagine more, then how do we know we can have more? How do we know we’re deserving of more? Lisa says she thinks this limited message about what’s normal and good is part of why so many folks are starting to ask for more from Hollywood. Even from the Bond Franchise.
DR. LISA: So many people always say, well, what if Bond was and then fill in the blanks, right? What if Bond was Black? What if Bond was a woman, what if Bond was gay? And that's because we want to see ourselves with that privilege to be able to just be judged and valued or specifically not held back without having these social barriers that most of us face.
CHRIS: But Lisa says she’s not so sure subbing in a Black or Brown actor for James Bond would give us the power we want.
DR. LISA: Bond is a colonial figure. Look, I love the film Octopussy, but Bond goes to India. He occupies and destroys spaces when he's in the bazaar during that fight sequence. It's not a respectful walk through the bazaar. Right.
[Motorcycle zooms, fight sequence is heard.]
DR. LISA:He's claiming artifacts, utilizing people, destroying people's livelihoods. And then we're all supposed to laugh and feel good about it because Bond got the job done.
ROGER MOORE AS JAMES BOND: This should shake them off.
DR. LISA: Like, can you really decolonize Bond or are you just replicating, you know, this colonial identity, which is a core factor of the Bond character, and just having it be marketed in different forms.
CHRIS: I gotta say. In all my years of loving Bond, I’d never really thought about him as a colonial figure.
CHRIS: Maybe Lisa is right. Maybe the answer isn’t recasting Bond as a person of color, or a woman, or Mario Lopez. (Which, by the way, there is an actual active online petition on change.org. It has 41 signatures. The goal is 100.)
Maybe the answer is in telling a new story, a true story, a story like Rubi’s. I asked Lisa about this possibility but there was one little problem.
CHRIS: Have you heard of Porfirio Rubirosa? He was a Dominican man, a diplomat.
DR. LISA: I don't think so.
CHRIS: Has that story ever come up in your research, that character, the ideas of who maybe Bond was based on?
DR. LISA: I think interestingly, no. And I think it's very interesting that hypothetically, if this is the root right, if this is a huge inspiration, I find it quite interesting that these qualities and these experiences in many ways are appropriated and in some ways colonized by a British writer and presented in a very specific, privileged form.
CHRIS: Lisa told me there’s actually a term for this kind of thing — when a certain experience, often an experience of someone of color, gets erased from storytelling. It’s called ‘symbolic annihilation.” If it sounds intense, it’s because it is.
DR. LISA: Like you're not even important enough to make it within our culture. And I always ask my students, which is worse, being stereotyped or not being represented. And the answer is both suck.
CHRIS: Both do suck, for sure. But honestly, I think not being represented is worse. It means you don’t matter, and if you don’t matter, then you aren’t needed. And I guess that’s what Hollywood has been saying to Rubi all these years. And to so many other Black & Brown folks… We don’t need you.
DR. LISA: The question is like, why haven't I heard this? Like, why is this not part of the lineage and the legacy and the stories that keep getting swamped by the same people who are writing these biographies over and over and over again and where it's almost like writing and rewriting and layering almost to, like, justify or fortify these stories. And yet there might be other figures that we're overlooking. And the question is why?
[Jazzy, mellow yet fast-paced music with a keyboard solo enters.]
CHRIS: I think that's still my question. Why? Why has Rubi’s story been overlooked — symbolically annihilated?
In this world, what we give screen time to, what we choose to represent, the stories we choose to tell - those are the faces, bodies, experiences that we are saying truly matter - and more often than not, those are white faces and white stories.
But…what if we flip the script? What can happen when representation in Hollywood gets more diverse?
PERSON 1: I just see my people on screen and it’s Marvel. I gotta go see it!
PERSON 2: We’ve seen iron man, we’ve seen spiderman. And we know our communities are worth that kind of representation.
CHRIS: These are clips of Black folks…reacting to Black Panther when it came out in 2018. You can just hear the pride in their voices.
PERSON 3: I could see the trailer 3 times and feel like I could wanna see it again.
CHRIS: Ok one more. This one’s my favorite…
PERSON 4: Since the beginning of cinema. You get to feel empowered like this and represented.
PERSON 5: This…This what y’all feel like all the time? I would love this country too.
CHRIS: This, this right here, is why representation on screen matters. He said “I would love this country, too.” Damn y’all… I get it. I want to see more of this too, my whole life I’ve wanted this.
[Footsteps on dirt are heard.]
CHRIS: I’m back on the trail, up to the Hollywood sign. And I gotta tell y’all - I have complicated feelings about being a working actor — a BROWN working actor — in Hollywood.
CHRIS: I don't want to sound jaded or get it twisted, like this is where I'm making my career, Hollywood, where I'm chasing my dreams, it's where I'm achieving them, where I've worked tirelessly. I've done the whole sleeping in my car thing just to get a piece of the dream. I don't have regrets. But I do find a lot of value in knowing that the game isn't as glamorous as it always looks. From a distance, it's beautiful. It's got perfection and glamor and grandness. But for most people, when they try and get close to Hollywood, it's disappointing. It lets you down and you can only ever see it from the back.
CHRIS: I want to tell you a little bit about my experience in Hollywood. I came here to Hollywood to feel accepted – yes, I know it sounds weird when I say it out loud. Obviously, I didn’t always find it, especially not at first. It took six years and three agents until someone finally understood that Colombian & Dominican are not the same thing as Mexican. Not every Brown Latino is Mexican! I’ve gone out for and booked all the stereotypical roles: landlords, bag boys, line cooks, drug dealers. Granted, I’ve played some fancy drug dealers who own hookah bars and drive Bentleys and what not, but still, drug dealers nonetheless.
And it’s not just the roles I get, it’s how I’m treated once in them. Once a director shouted, “Ay, cool it with ethnic hands,” in response to what he considered too much hand movement… Writers in TV shows have given me lines about loving salsa the dance, while my character eats salsa the food.
My ex-manager suggested I cut my hair so people couldn’t tell how curly it is. I did it.
She also suggested I get a nose job, to make my nose skinnier and more Eurocentric. I did that too. And the sad or just honest thing is, it worked. I started booking more roles immediately after.
At a party recently, a white person congratulated me for booking the TV show I’m currently on by saying, “It’s so great they’re looking for more minorities, but now I can’t get a role. You're so lucky. Everyone wants you right now. I'm just white. I have nothing.”
I almost walked away, I didn’t want this to be another teaching moment, I’m tired of teaching. But isn't silence exactly how Rubi got erased? So, I turned back and said, “Really? White people have nothing huh? Nothing. When you say sentences like that, what you’re really saying is, your only shot was racism and now you’re sad there is a little less of it.”
To be honest… It's confusing. In one breath someone tells you they're an ally and they’re happy that some change is happening. But then in the next breath they reveal that they’re threatened, that my gain is ultimately their loss. Or they tell you that they're still not sure that a Latino hero is going to drive ticket sales.
CHRIS: Does it surprise you that they still think to this day, a movie with a Latino leading man can't be successful?
DR. FRANCES NEGRÓN-MUNTANER: No, it doesn't surprise me.
CHRIS: I talked about this with Dr. Frances Negrón-Muntaner. Frances is a filmmaker and professor at Columbia University who studies Latinx representation in media – specifically something that she calls the “Latino media gap.”
DR. FRANCES: We made a graph and that graph had two lines. One was population increase and the other one was the increase in representation. And basically those two lines at the rate we're going, we'll never meet. And that's why we called it the Latino media gap.
CHRIS: Imagine this: You’ve got one line representing the population of Latinx folks in America. It goes from about 12% in 2010 to about 19% in 2020. And then you’ve got another line for Latinx roles in movies, TV shows, and media. That line steadily hovers around 3% the entire time. Basically flat.
DR. FRANCES: There's no way that that participation keeps pace with population
CHRIS: This is also true for Asian-Americans, and pretty much all Brown Americans by the way.
Did you know Latinos buy more movie tickets per capita? That’s right, we actually put more “butts in seats” – than any other group. One fifth of the US population is Latinx. And yet, a 2022 report from UCLA showed Latinos only had 7% of lead film roles.
And the rest of the roles, the other speaking parts in those movies that aren’t the leads, the overwhelming majority of those characters are white. That's the world we’re living in. Not the one those white folks who told me I had it easy think we live in. In our world, only 39% of speaking roles went to characters of color.
But again, getting roles is just one step. It also matters what kinds of roles we’re getting. When onscreen we are often marginalized and tokenized, relegated to being sidekicks, butts of jokes, and foreign-accented villains. Stereotypes. Seriously, watch a movie and I bet you, the villain has an accent.
DR. FRANCES: In the case of Latinos, what you see is that the types of stereotypical roles that actors have to step into to become stars haven't changed that much. The only stereotype that makes you a superstar is the hot Latina.
FRANCES: Think about Jennifer Lopez, who is the only Puerto Rican superstar in Hollywood history spanning multiple genres and industries. Or think about Salma Hayek or Sofia Vergara. You don't have an equivalent of that to men in general. And one of the interesting reasons for that is that the stereotype that took Latino men to certain types of stardom, which was the Latin lover, is a stereotype that probably died with Antonio Banderas. And in its place came the gardener. Which is a new stereotype. So just as the maid is a new stereotype for Latinas.
CHRIS: That Latin Lover stereotype Frances is talking about was found in all kinds of films in the early 20th century. It gave a lot of Latin actors a chance to be featured on screen. And of course it applied to Rubi, in real life. But Frances says that it’s much harder to find this stereotype on screen today.
DR. FRANCES: We're willing to open up women, but we're not willing to open up men because men are threatening to some extent. We don't want to replace the white male lead with a spectrum of men, of different groups, you know?
CHRIS: All of this is at play when we’re talking about why we don’t have a Latino with the “star power” to carry a movie about Rubirosa. And on top of that, Rubi was a complicated figure, an enigma who defies easy classification – was he a friendly playboy, a skilled negotiator, an accomplice to murder? Like we talked about earlier, the Hollywood machine isn’t built to produce a complicated Brown character.
DR. FRANCES: The only way that you make, let's say, a thousand movies a year in an industry is that you have to have a certain level of automation. And I think stereotypes are part of that automation. And think about what would happen to the industry if they actually produced films that were nuanced and complex, like most of these films, would be nuanced and complex. They couldn't make that many at that rate.
CHRIS: Yep. It’s a tough place to be in as an actor. In a film I recently auditioned for, the only people of color cast were an Indian doctor, a Spanish cook, and a Black caretaker for the lead white actor. Of course.
And for Latin folks, the casting conversations get some extra complicated sauce sprinkled on top… because so many of us can pass as white or other races. I’m gonna give you some examples of what I’m talking about. Here is one of the Latina actresses that's gotten the most lead roles in top grossing films over the last two decades.
CAMERON DIAZ AS FIONA: Look Pal, I don’t know who you think you are!
CHRIS: Cameron Diaz. She’s half Cuban. But you’d never know it from the roles she’s cast in. Then there’s Oscar Isaac…
OSCAR ISAAC AS POE DAMERON: Keep it. It suits you.
CHRIS: …y’know, the guy from Dune and Star Wars. He’s Guatemalan-American but he mostly plays ethnically ambiguous roles.
Aubrey Plaza from Parks and Rec is half Puerto Rican.
AUBREY PLAZA AS APRIL: “The air is too fresh. It’s disgusting. I can’t breathe.”
CHRIS: And Alexis Bledel of Gilmore Girls is of Mexican and Argentinian descent.
ALEXIS BLEDEL AS RORY: “I got kissed. And I shoplifted.”
CHRIS: And on the other side of the coin are the Afro-Latino actors who only get cast as Black. Like Tessa Thompson!
TESSA THOMPSON AS VALKYRIE: Your majesty! [Pause] Don’t die.
CHRIS: Now listen, I'm not saying these actors are outwardly or actively denying that they are Latin. It's more like, they get cast in white or ethno-ambiguous roles and they go with it. I mean, shit, I'd take that role in Star Wars too.
FRANCES: So in that sense, it seems like there’s space for Latinos that do not present themselves as such and the more major challenge is for Latinos that are read as Latinos, because Hollywood doesn't produce those stories, doesn't want to cast those actors. So then you hit all these walls.
CHRIS: And when Hollywooddoes produce those stories and roles, Frances says that they often get cast with white European actors from Spain. Think of Javier Bardem or Penelope Cruz. Or Antonio Banderas playing Rubi. These Spanish actors are representing people from Latin America on screen.
It reminds me of the casting controversy around “In the Heights,” the Lin Manuel Miranda musical that got turned into a movie in 2021. The story is about an Afro-Latinx neighborhood in upper manhattan. In real life — we’re dark-skinned. Many Afro-Latinos identify as Black. But as thousands of fans pointed out on twitter and in reviews, the lead actors cast in the movie were light-skinned and most of them weren’t even Dominican.
All of this contributes to that gap Frances told us about. And it’s a Gap I feel like I’ve been stuck in my whole life — without having a name for it, or knowing how to navigate it. I can’t help but think about my childhood self, who was obsessed with Bond and with the TV. What if Bond had looked like me? Like my pops? Shared my dark, curly hair? What if that representation had been there? How might my life be different now?
KAHEISHA BROOKS: I truly believe he thought it was him. Just - his reaction, he kept staring at the screen, then looking back at us and smiling.
CHRIS: This is a mom in New York City talking to a news station about her two-year-old son seeing the Pixar movie Encanto. On the news they show a picture of him, standing in front of the TV. The kid looks just like the movie character Antonio, same hair and glasses and everything. Here’s his dad:
KEITH BROOKS: I know growing up for me, that wasn’t necessarily something you often see. For so many other Black and Brown boys to have that same experience now, I think that was amazing.
CHRIS: Seeing someone who looks like you on the screen can uplift the spirit. It is powerful to be seen. No matter who you are, no matter how old you are. It’s been happening for white people since the dawn of cinema. And now, It’s happening for everyone else a little more, but it’s still not enough.
DR. FRANCES: The stories that we are exposed to, the images that we are exposed to is the material from which we craft our sense of self. So if I am a little Latina, you know, a little Latina girl in the United States and I don't see myself anywhere and I don't see any story that pertains to my life or my history. You're going to get the message that you don't exist or you don't matter and you don't belong. And those feelings have consequences.
CHRIS: All of this hits super close to home. Super close to the heart. I remember the time I didn’t get a part because I was “more urban than Latin,” even though the character was born in America and it took place in New York. New York City. The city where I was born.
That’s when my ex-manager told me to cut my hair. Go for something more — in her words — “neutral.” I decided to chop off all my beautiful curls in favor of a crew cut, not unlike Rubi's hair. Sitting in that barber's chair, I thought I had to fill the slots Hollywood needed me to fill, the roles they wanted me to play.
Because that is what people of color have been forced to do for centuries, right? We change and we manipulate ourselves, our faces, our skin, our voices to appear more standard.
And when I cut my hair, I did what Rubi and many Brown people have done before me. I fell into line. I don't want to fall into line anymore.
I’m ready to draw new lines.
CHRIS: So I know you want to see change in Hollywood. Do you have specific change and do you have specific ways in which you think this must happen or can happen?
DR. FRANCES: There's nothing more important than telling stories, sharing them and circulating them. And we're turning that fundamental human experience from the beginning of time into whatever sells more, which is why spaces like Hollywood will change very slowly. And I'm not saying that it's not worth that change, but I don't think that it's ever going to be what we want it to be.
So, what to do? I mean, I think it depends where you're situated, if you're in Hollywood and you want to work in Hollywood, then you're going to be putting pressure into these processes so they are more diverse, both in terms of groups and perspective. And if you're totally outside of Hollywood, at least as a producer, you might be working to create alternatives. And we need all of us doing all of that.
CHRIS: And maybe if all of us are doing our part, we’ll get to see more of those complicated Brown and Black and Asian and nonbinary stories that have been missing. And maybe we’ll even see that Rubi movie one day. And, hey, I’d love to throw my hat in the ring for the part. I am Dominican after all. And It’s like Isabella says:
ISABELLA: He was Dominican. Come on, I want to hear that.
[Slinky music enters.]
CHRIS: Next time…we’re gonna look at Rubi through a very Dominican lens… the lens of the tíguere.
ISABELLA: You can't mess with a tiguere because, you know, a tiguere will come back to bite you.
GRASIE: Like a loverboy, kind of piece of shit.
CHRIS: How does the stereotype of the Latin Lover play out in Rubi’s real life?