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The son of migrant
farm laborers, Nogales says there's more at stake with Latino representation
than TV ratings or box office. "This is about the way a population is going
to be portrayed if they are absent from the tube or screen, or are depicted
in a stereotypical fashion. State, federal and county resources are allocated
to communities for job development, education and small-business infrastructure,"
he says, "and if we, as Latinos, are not visible in the industry that creates
popular culture, that can have a negative outcome."
stereotypes in the media is a mission for most of the Latino filmmakers associated
with UCLA. Valdes has worked with Clint Eastwood on 17 films, and has tried
to "replace racial and gender stereotypes wherever and whenever we could."
He recalls that in the early '90s he was asked to help Latinos gain ground in
Hollywood. "At that time, there was no Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas or
Jennifer Lopez, and going into a studio with an all-Latino cast and story was
impossible," Valdes says. "Latinos were being cast, as they still
are today, in roles that didn't fully represent our culture — gardeners,
maids, car thieves. The usual stuff. There was definitely an imperative to try
and make a difference."
MAY SEEM MINOR, at times, but Valdes insists they leave their mark.
For his current film, Open Range, Valdes convinced director Kevin Costner to
cast Diego Luna, the young Mexican star of Y Tu Mamá También, even though the part was not specified as Latino.
"It's a more
realistic version of the Old West [having Diego in the role]," Valdes intones,
"yet it was an afterthought that I had to suggest because Latinos are so
far off Hollywood's radar. The studios are not rushing to make films about Ruben
Salazar or César Chávez, even though
these men were great Americans and heroes to millions of people. Los Angeles
is not rushing to support its own Latino museum, even though it is a city named
in Spanish and was in the hands of Mexicans for centuries. I tell Latino filmmakers
at UCLA that they are part of a special place that values their heritage. I
tell them to follow their dreams and make films about their culture, even if
Hollywood is not always receptive. Change comes slowly in this industry. But
without film programs like UCLA that celebrate diversity, it may not come at