I should probably start by reiterating a very key point:
I don’t care about diversity.
Despite being a latino actor, myself, and being the nephew of Elizabeth PeÃ±a- who was a role model for many hispanic actors- I’ve really never batted an eyelash over the idea of diversity on television or a desire to be represented on screens both big and small. For me, personally, when considering what movie to watch, what network to tune into, or which artist to support, it all boils down to one question: Does it interest me? I don’t see skin color. I don’t see gender. I see an opportunity for entertainment, and ask myself if it’s something I’d like to check out.
With that said, I do find it cool when I see certain marginalized groups get recognition in an organic and natural way. In last week’s column “Will Latino Audiences Continue To Say ‘No Mas’ To Latino Films?” and on this week’s LOS FANBOYS Podcast, I pointed out that- to me- I feel a great sense of pride when I see films made by Latino filmmakers, like Gravity, Birdman, and The Revenant, sweeping up accolades during award seasons. I take pride in seeing fellow latinos integrate themselves into the entertainment landscape without necessarily having to pander to latinos- especially since I like to argue the case that latino audiences don’t seem to like being pandered to, and often give “latino” projects the cold shoulder.
[If you’re curious, jump to 1:01:50 to listen to our spirited chat on diversity]
Which brings me to a positive spotlight I’d like to shine today. A spotlight on Marvel Studios, who I feel has done a commendable job of organically widening the diversity we see on our screens.
Whether it’s hiring Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, and Dave Bautista as lead characters in Guardians Of The Galaxy, signing Don Cheadle up to play War Machine, putting together a venerable who’s who of African American talent for Black Panther, or giving the world several strong female characters like Black Widow, Pepper Potts, Gamora, Scarlet Witch, Hope Van Dyne, and the upcoming Captain Marvel, I think they’re doing a great job of quietly breaking barriers.
Then you look at the small screen- and this was really the inspiration for today’s column- and it’s equally strong. On Netflix, they’re assembling a Defenders team comprised of a handicapped man, a bad@ss heroine, a black hero, and a guy who owes his destiny to- and whose origin is steeped in- Asian mysticism.
But what about what’s about to happen on ABC’s Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.? As we exclusively reported, they’re bringing in the Robbie Reyes incarnation of Ghost Rider. Reyes and his brother Gabe will be central to the plot of the upcoming fourth season, and that means we’ll get to see actor Gabriel Luna in a starring role on an ABC primetime series this fall. And, due to the character’s mythos, I’m sure it’ll explore his latino culture just as a matter of fact, so it won’t feel like some sort of stunt to pull in latino audiences.
This all hits close to home for me, since ABC actually gave my aunt her own sitcom back in 1987. She was Dora in “I Married Dora,” and then the network brought her back years later to play Sofia Vergara’s mother Pilar on “Modern Family.” She also starred alongside Luna as his mother on the El Rey Network’s Matador.
I’m sure she’s looking down on all this with a great sense of orgullo seeing Luna land such a significant role on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
And my favorite part of Marvel’s approach to all of this is that it isn’t simply swapping out white actors for minority actors, or changing the genders of established characters. It’s looking at it’s stable of characters and organically bringing in a steady stream of strong minority and female characters, and weaving them into their impressive tapestry of movies and TV shows.
To me, it doesn’t feel like a stunt at all. It doesn’t feel ham-fisted or forced. It just feels like…the future.
It’s why, to the activist types who’ve come after me in the past, I always stress that this is a long game, and to be patient. As time goes by, as population breakdowns shift, and as those who hunger for representation keep their heads down and diligently work towards their goals, many glass ceilings will be shattered along the way, and you don’t need to keep stacking soapboxes in order to get to them.
Simply put: Don’t demand a change, be the change.
Or just wait. Cause it’s happening, one way or the other.
Thanks for your time, and if you respectfully disagree, I’ll be happy to have a conversation with you.