The #OscarsSoWhite controversy propelled the discussion on how deeply rooted Hollywood's diversity problem truly is. The absence of people of color in any of the major acting nominations was angering — although, to be honest, not surprising in the least — and a recent New York Times piece shows just what it's like for women and people of color in Hollywood to struggle against a power structure dominated by straight White men.
One quote by America Ferrera, in particular, stands out. The actress recalled her first ever audition for a commercial at age 16, where the casting director asked her to "sound more Latino." Confused, Ferrera said she had no clue what the director wanted.
"I had no idea what she was talking about. 'You mean you want me to speak in Spanish?' She's like: 'No. Do it in English but just sound more Latino.' I genuinely didn't realize until later that she was asking me to speak English with a broken accent," she told the Times. "It confused me, because I thought, I am Latino, so isn't this what a Latino sounds like? From the get-go of my career," Ferrera said, "I thought, There's a certain box or a certain way that you're seen, which I didn't feel growing up."
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To an impressionable 16-year-old, the remark was a first taste of how Hollywood saw certain groups of people. Many actors of Hispanic, Asian, or any foreign/non-White descent are told to put on an accent — as was expertly highlighted in an episode on Aziz Ansari's Netflix show, Master of None — that better reflected what predominantly White male executives thought of other ethnicities and cultures than what they truly were.
While onscreen representation is important, routinely typecasting people of color and limiting them to minor, one-dimensional roles could sometimes be more damaging than their absence. Even after winning a Sundance award, Ferrera's then-manager sought out an audition for the "Latina chubby girl" sidekick role in a pilot.
"When I ultimately left [her manager], he [told] another of my reps, 'Somebody should tell that girl that she has an unrealistic idea of what she can accomplish in this industry,' " she recalled. "That was someone I was paying to represent me."
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