Amid Hollywood’s latest diversity scandal, Legendary Studios is courting controversy with the announcement that blue-eyed, blonde-haired Englishman Charlie Hunnam will play the role of Mexican-American drug smuggler Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villarreal in an upcoming film.
Deadline reported earlier this month that Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) had been cast to play the role of the drug kingpin, who became know as “La Barbie” because of his green eyes and fair complexion, in the film American Drug Lord.
Valdez, who is a U.S. citizen, was a high school football player from Leredo, Texas, who went on to become the only American to become a prominent cartel leader in Mexico. “La Barbie” entered the drug trade in Mexico as a teenager, and made a reported $130 million in one year moving drugs into the U.S. from Colombia.
He started out working for the Sinaloa cartel, but later moved to the affiliated family-operated Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO). He was arrested in Mexico in August 2010 on charges related to drug trafficking and extradited to the U.S.
While Hollywood remains ensnared in the controversy and fallout over this year’s all white Oscars, many are asking why Legendary could not have found an actual Hispanic actor with lighter features to play the part of the notorious cartel leader.
Controversy over the casting choice began on social media, but also has The Los Angeles Times declaring Hunnam as “La Barbie” to be “exactly what’s wrong with Hollywood,” despite the fact that Hunnam and Villarreal actually share a similar look and complexion.
— Pandora (@PandorasEyep) January 18, 2015
— LosAngeles ArtieFice (@ArtieFice) January 25, 2016
— Azucena Rasilla (@ChroniclesOfAzu) January 24, 2016
Facebook user Leonel Ibarra wrote to the LA Times, “There are so many talented Latino actors that could play that role. This reminds me of the 50s and 60s when they hired white guys to play Native Americans or African Americans. This is 2016, get with the program Hollywood!”
Brent Wilkes, National Executive Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) tells Breitbart News, “Latinos are both under-represented and poorly represented in the film industry.” Wilkes adds:
The casting of Charlie Hunnam to play a Latino role is a specific example of the intersection of the two biggest problems in Hollywood. There have been many examples where movies called for Latino characters but non-Latinos were cast for those parts. The West Side Story movie of 1961 serves as the classic example of this casting problem – remember when Natalie Wood played Maria? Unfortunately, it’s 2016 and not much has changed. Charlie Hunnam is the new Maria in this case – but it is important to point out that the issue isn’t so much that non-Latinos should never play Latinos, as much as it is that Latinos are still grossly under-represented and this needs to be addressed.
Wilkes concludes: “The film industry needs to recognize the significant pool of talent among the Latino community. Parts should be offered to Latinos that represent the broad cultural contributions of our community. Latinos have had enough with them being caricatured in stereotypical ways or portrayed in bad light as drug traffickers.”
Many inside the industry’s Latino community are also questioning the choice to cast Hunnam.
Sabino Villalobos, of Latino Casting Hollywood, tells Breitbart News, “I think it’s a crying shame that they can’t get closer to the real thing.”
Villalobos, whose Los Angeles-based online database is dedicated to the advancement of Latino Talent in the entertainment and related industries, adds: “The truth is, Latinos come in all colors, shapes and sizes. There are plenty of Latinos with light brown hair, and they need to know that.”
While Villalobos concedes he has no issue with the casting a white actor like Hunnam to play the role of a Hispanic man if it is better for a production company’s bottom line, he jokes, “They could always get a noted Latino actor to dye his hair.”
Says Villalobos, “The time is here and now and there is plenty of talent to choose from. They need to see what is in front of them. They need to make that change, it’s here. they can’t ignore it for much longer.”
He concludes the solution for Latinos wanting greater representation in films like American Drug Lord might come down to “us creating our own projects.”
American Drug Lord is still in the preliminary stages of development. Jason Hall (American Sniper) is set to write the script.