Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Another ethnic mismatch post

TCM is continuing its series of festivals looking at the way Hollywood portrayed minorites in the movies.  Over the past three years, we've had Hollywood's look at Blacks, gays, and Asians; this year it's the turn of Hispanics. One of the interesting things about such series is when actors who wouldn't be classified as anything but white get ethnic roles. I've commented on this a few times in the past when actors get asked to play various European nationalities, either playing actual Europeans, or immigrants of various ethnic groups. That's not too egregious, as the differences between say, and Irish immigrant and an Italian immigrant aren't quite that large.

Expecting whites to play Asians is rather a bigger stretch, while in the case of Hispanics, it doesn't necessarily have to be such a big deal. After all, there are a lot of relatively light-complected actors and actresses from Mexico and the rest of Latin America who, if they didn't have foreign-sounding names or accents, could easily have been considered just plain white Anthony Quinn, for example was born in Mexico to an Irish immigrant father (hence the surname, which always was Quinn), and a Hispanic Mexican mother. It would be easy enough to name Ricardo Montalban, Katy Jurado, Dolores Del Rio, Carmen Miranda, or a lot of others.

But this is a post about white guys playing Mexicans, with one of the most egregiously bad selections showing up overnight tonight (at 4:15 AM ET Wednesday): Viva Villa! It's a Hollywood biopic (which of course means it may or may not be accurate) about the early 20th century Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, in which Villa is played by... Wallace Beery. Oy, to mix ethnic metaphors. I suppose it could be worse, though, in that Marie Dressler wasn't playing his love interest.

Viva Villa! has some interesting trivia about it, too. Howard Hawks was originally scheduled to direct, but the movie was filmed on location in Mexico, and after a night of heavy drinking, cast member Lee Tracy peed from his hotel balcony on a group of Mexican soldiers below. This is a major no-no, and unsurprisingly, the Mexican authorities were livid. Tracy was fired from the movie and released from his contract with MGM, and only played small parts the rest of his career. Hawks stood up for Tracy, and got fired from his job as director.

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