Thursday, 16 October 2014

Top 5 Latin Americans Characters

Hispanic Heroes

It is easy to forget that Latin Americans make up the biggest ethnic minority in the United States. In films they are often ignored or secluded to minor supporting roles. And yet, on the rare occasions when a Mexican lead is portrayed, such as in Orson Welles' A Touch of Evil, their characterisation tends to be clumsy and - rather predictably - verging on racist. Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns are usually the worst offenders in this regard.

But, as Bob Dylan famously sang, the times are-a-changing, and new roles for actors from the land of Bolivar, Guevera and erm... Antonio Valencia are beginning to emerge. In a future article I intend to go into this subject in more detail. For now, however, let's treat ourselves to a run-down of the best Hispanic characters in film and television to date.  

Jaime Escalante - Stand and Deliver (1988)

Edward James Olmos, familiar amongst ardent nerds as Bill Adama from Battlestar Galactica, was nominated for an Oscar when he played real life maths teacher Escalante. In a failing downtown L.A. school, the passionate tutor raises the expectations of his pupils and inspires them to achieve phenomenal results in a rigorous Calculus test. The students do so well, in fact, that the exam board believe the kids somehow cheated. Escalante is not always sympathetic in the film but nobody can deny his determination to do what is best for his class.

 Gloria - Modern Family (2009-present)

She may not be a person of impeccable social standing, but Gloria proved that a Columbian female figure (and what a figure it is!) could be relatable and entertaining to mainstream global audiences. The thriving comedy show has catapulted Sofia Vergara to stardom and a contract which makes her the highest paid woman on American television. The majority of her fortune comes from lucrative advertising endorsements, proving she has a powerful appeal in and outside of her ethnic community. Indeed, it means Jennifer Lopez is no longer considered the only beautiful woman for Latin girls to aspire to.

Pedro - Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

This kid might look forlorn and gormless but he surprises everyone by running for Class President. Does he win? I can't remember; that is not really the point of the film. Dare I say it, Pedro is an ironic character, reflecting a weird perspective on the Latin American identity. Ultimately, the message is to be happy with who you are, however odd you might be. It may not be ground breaking stuff but, like the rest of Napoleon Dynamite, proves exceptionally funny. So do it now, vote for Pedro!

Carlito Brigante - Carlito's Way (1993)

Although Al Pacino is perhaps the most famous Italian American in the world, he was nothing short of wonderful in the role of a Puerto Rican convict. Carlito is the only character who ever thinks rationally in his tragic story and never loses his goodness, even when he becomes embroiled in a series of gruesome events. In the final scene we see things through the unfortunate protagonist's eyes as he is carried into hospital. There is an honest, soothing simplicity to his acceptance of fate. With another actor, Carlito might have become a criminal caricature - another Tony Montana wannabe - but Pacino presents this hapless human as a unique soul, indeed, a thoroughly decent guy.

Gustavo Fring - Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

Ruthless, efficient, unsmiling: the Bolivian meth distributor is a tough person for Walter White to negotiate with. On many occasions he has the upper hand, only to be beaten by bad luck and misfortune. Unlike the other cartel villains from the series, Gus is methodical and exact. He rarely makes mistakes and never does anything without a clear strategy. Most notably, this narcotics entrepreneur has painstakingly established a number of watertight fronts for his illegal activities, including fast-food chain Los Pollos Hermanos, which I am lead to believe makes some pretty good fried chicken. His business is the last place the cops would ever look. He even donates money to the DEA annual fun run, for goodness sake. Once again, one of our listed characters is not a moral exemplar to his ethnic community. Nevertheless, he certainly ensures a memorable screen presence for Latinos, in the same way Tony Soprano represents fundamental Italian American values, albeit in an unorthodox guise.


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