John Leguizamo Gets Real About the Colorism Problem in Hollywood

We might have made some progress when it comes to diverse representation in mainstream films and television, but we still have a very long way to go. This is especially the case when it comes to how the Latinx community is depicted in Hollywood. John Leguizamo recently spoke up about the colorism issue that still very much exists within Latinx communities and how it often impacts casting.

"There's colorism within Latin culture that we have to fix, but there's colorism in Hollywood, too," Leguizamo tells Nick Barili in Barili's new series, "Seen," which is in collaboration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Like most communities of color, the Latinx community is often treated and portrayed like a monolithic group. We still don't see enough Black Latinx representation in film and television, and rarely do we ever see Indigenous Latinx representation in Hollywood at all. The few times we do see Latinx actors in leading roles, they are often times white Latinxs or at least relatively light skinned. Leguizamo admits that he's benefited from being a light-skinned Latino, so much so that he actually went out of his way to avoid getting darker so that he could land these roles and move up in Hollywood.

"I've benefited from being light skin, and I stayed out of the sun so I could work. I definitely would not go in the sun," he says. "For years I was so pasty so I could work. All the Latinos who've made it so far, a lot of them were light skinned. What happened to all the Afro-Latinos and the majority of Indigenous Latinos? They don't get a shot."

Leguizamo, who began his career in the early '80s, even mentioned an incident where a role he had landed was then taken away from him because a Latina actress was later cast and they "couldn't have two Latin people in the movie because then it becomes a Latin movie." If Leguizamo, who is a relatively light-skinned Latino, had to be conscious of taking sun and getting darker in order to get roles, imagine how much harder it has been for Black and Indigenous Latinx actors just to get their foot in the door. There's a reason Lin-Manuel Miranda's film adaptation of "In The Heights" received so much backlash and criticism, and it's because the film failed to cast any dark-skinned Black Latinx actors in lead roles. A film about Washington Heights, a neighborhood that consists of predominantly Afro-Dominicans, failed to actually portray that. Someone who knows nothing about Dominicans and knows nothing about Washington Heights could have watched that movie and still have no idea that Black Latinxs even exist.

It's even worse when it comes to Indigenous Latinx representation, despite the fact that there are 50 million people who identify as Indigenous and are a part of 500 different ethnic groups across Latin America. Yalitza Aparicio recently appeared in a Huluween horror short film, "Hijas De Brujas," by Mexican director Faride Schroeder, but it was the first role we've seen her in since "Roma" in 2018. Why did it take an Oscar-nominated actress that long to land work again? Meanwhile, Rachel Zegler, who plays Maria in Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story" remake, was cast to play "Snow White" in the live-action film even before "West Side Story" was out. She's been super transparent about her privilege being a white Latina and how she knows it's helped her land roles that would be much harder for darker-skinned Latinxs to land.

We are slowly seeing better representation of Black Latinxs, like with Ariana DeBose's role as Anita in Spielberg's remake of "West Side Story" and Rome Flynn in the Latinx rom-com series "With Love." But we certainly still have miles to go.