The Mandalorian actor John Leguizamo, who played Gor Koresh, recently claimed he lost half of his fans due to his embrace of identity politics and that he stayed out of the sun in order to stay light-skinned so he would get work in Hollywood.
Leguizamo made the claims in an interview with Nick Barili of The Ocasrs’ ‘Seen’ program, where he also detailed that he wasn’t getting the same opportunities as his white peers when he was a student at New York University.
“Here I am in NYU, an A student. I had fixed my accent a lot by this point. And all the white kids in my class were going to five auditions a day. I was going to one every five months and I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m working as hard as they are. I got better grades,” the Encanto voice actor stated. “And then I realized, ‘Oh my god, I don’t have the same opportunities as they have.’ And I realized that it wasn’t an equal playing field. It just was never going to be. And it disillusions you.”
“You’re a young man, and you realize, ‘Oh my god, life is not fair.’ Just because of how I look, how I sound, my economic class that I come from, it’s just not a fair playing field. No matter how talented you are, it doesn’t matter. But I thought talent was the great equalizer,” he added.
“So the audition I would go to every five months was always for a drug dealer, a murderer, a killer, or somebody, your gardener, or somebody servicing your house,” he stated.
Leguizamo would go on to refer to Hollywood as “Hollywouldn’t” as he wasn’t landing the roles he wanted so he decided to turn to performance art in off-Broadway plays.
The actor would then take issue with the amount of Latinos in Hollywood. He stated, “‘Cause look, right now, the census came out, the 2020 Census and said we’re almost 20% of the population. And then a couple of years ago we were only 3% of the faces in front of the camera, less than 1% of the stories, less than 1% of the crew, less than 1% of the executives. That’s cultural apartheid.”
He didn’t hold this criticism to Hollywood saying, “And the same thing goes for politics, less than 1% of elected officials. And forget about publication. Latin children are least seen in children’s picture books. So right then there, your self-esteem as a child is already being challenged.”
From there Leguizamo states, “So not only are we invisible, but when we are seen, it’s a negative portrayal.”
He went on to ask, “How do you create a Latin star in America when the roles are one-dimensional and not worthy of awards?”
“The ugly question is, why are Latin people not succeeding? That’s the ugly question. Are we not smart enough? Not talented enough? Not good-looking enough? Not hardworking enough? No, none of those stereotypes and racist ideas because nobody tries harder with less access,” he continued.
The actor then went on to offer an example saying, “A friend of mine, I won’t say her name, years ago when I was doing Mambo Mouth sent out her resume. Dark-skinned Latin woman sent out her resume with a picture, one with a Latin a name, her real name, and then one with a whiteified name. The whitified got callbacks, the Latin one got nothing.”
“And that just explains the whole situation then and there,” he added.
He did go on to claim that things have changed in Hollywood, “Things have changed incrementally, unfortunately. 40 years I’ve been in this business and I guess we went from 1% to maybe this year, I think we are gonna be at 4 or 5% in front of the camera. I’m not sure what the numbers are behind.”
The Dora the Explorer voice actor continued, “I mean, things are improving. I think COVID made us really look at ourselves in America. I think Black Lives Matter was a huge awakening for America, a reboot for America to look at themselves and see what’s going on.”
“I think everybody’s trying to do the right thing and hire many more people of color. What I want to see, I want to see 20 percent of the roles in front of the camera, of the crew, of the stories, of the executives. We’re 25% of the US box office. And we have 3% of the faces? I’m not asking for extra. I just want what’s due us,” Leguizamo demanded.
In order for change to happen Leguizamo says, “But it just takes somebody who looks like me being an executive and say that story’s worth it. Because I’ve been pitching stories for 30 years, always thinking that my writing was falling short because they never got greenlit. So I was like, ‘Damn, I thought it was a good script.’
“But then I’m winning awards on Broadway and off-Broadway, Obie awards and Drama Desk Awards for my writing and a Tony, Tony nominations and even Emmy’s. But never getting my movies done,” he said.
Leguizamo continued, “And you know, there was always the excuses were, ‘Latin people don’t wanna see Latin people.’ I’m like, ‘No, then who do I wanna see for Christmas at my house? Some Norwegian family sitting there? I wanna see Latin people is what I wanna see.”
“Or they would tell me like when Critical Thinking, I directed, they would tell me, ‘Latin people don’t wanna see feel good movies. No, no we wanna see really depressing suicidal flicks.’ It’s ‘Hollywood wisdom,’ you know?”, he stated.
“There is an audience and a hunger. So, I know that exists regardless of what a studio head or network says to me anymore,” he declared.
He goes on to cite the stage play Hamilton, “I know Hamilton would have never got made at a studio or a network. They would have been, ‘Oh I’m sorry, Lin. I’m sorry, but wait a minute Burr’s gonna be black and Hamilton’s gonna be Puerto Rican? I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh, but I can assure you they didn’t speak in hip hop back in the 1700s the founding fathers.’ It would have never gotten made, never.”
The interview then transitions to a restaurant where Leguizamo is asked about how he navigates being told no so often.
He responded, “It’s interesting because the rule is, you become a celebrity, you get a set amount of success, you don’t talk about your problems. You don’t talk about the difficulties. You act like, ‘Oh, it was a magic carpet ride,’ you know?”
“I feel like it’s really important to talk about all the problems and all the difficulties, especially if you’re a person of color – and especially if you’re Latinx. There’s a lot of the people struggling, and we need to change things,” he stated.
Leguizamon went on, “And Spike Lee showed me ’cause he’s one of the first who spoke out against #Hollywoodsowhite. Well, he was #Oscarssowhite, but I wasn’t sure (he gestures to the Oscars film crew recording the conversation). So he brought that out and I was like, ‘Yeah.’ I went right and started retweeting him like crazy. And then I had posted #Oscarsowhite, but #Hollwoodsevenwhiter.”
He then claimed he stayed out of the sun in order to keep a light skin tone in order to get work in Hollywood, “You know, there’s colorism within Latin culture that we have to fix, but there’s colorism in Hollywood too. I mean, I benefited from being light-skinned, and I stayed out of the sun so I could work. I definitely would not go in the sun for years. I was so pasty.”
He went on to confirm it was a conscious thing saying, “Oh yeah, so I could work.”
“And all the Latinos that made it so far, a lot of them were all light-skinned, you know? What happened to all the Afro-Latinos and the majority of indigenous Latinos? They don’t get a shot, you know? So, there’s a lot of things we got to deal with in Hollywood, and we got to fix it, and we got to speak out and we got to speak up,” he added.
Leguizamo would admit that his embrace of identity politics lost him half of his fans.
He said, “Well, being vocal has its cost. It has a cost. Like when I became very politically conscious and then politically on my social, I lost half my followers.”
“And then I got a lot of hate tweets. ‘Go back to your country.’ ‘Go back to Mexico.’ Which I’m not Mexican, but I’ll gladly go back to Mexico ’cause it’s a great country,” he claimed.
“Still, like when I post political stuff on Facebook, they go, ‘John, you used to be so entertaining, but now you’re a bore.’ But, you know, all this hate stuff, which I ignore, you know?,” he added.
“I feel like if you’ve achieved a certain amount of success, it’s your duty to give back. You gotta give back.” Leguizamo said.
He elaborated, “You can’t be an ostrich and stick your head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening, not existing. I’m just too socially conscious, and I feel like I had to fight to get here, and I’ve earned the scars and the wounds, and I want to talk about how I had to fight to get here.”
“If anybody had done what I had done, they’d be so much further. I mean I got a producer, I’m not gonna name his name, but he said, you know, ‘Too bad, John, you’re Puerto Rican, ’cause you’re so talented. Otherwise you’d be so much further along,'” he detailed.
He continued, “And that wasn’t an insult, it was an actual fact. At the time I didn’t know how to take it, but, now, I know it’s like, yeah, because you were Latin, you only gonna get so far. You’re only gonna get certain roles. You’re only gonna get certain opportunities.”
Later, he would add, “Tokenism is real. Glass ceilings real. Colorblind casting was promised to me by all the artists in the 70s, we were gonna break that down and then it wasn’t until Hamilton, 2000 somewhat that they finally did it. And it succeeded. It showed that it does work.”
What do you make of Leguizamo’s comments regarding Hollywood?