Although many people are unaware of it, Catherine Zeta-Jones was born in Wales and is not Hispanic nor Latina. However, she will be taking the role of Griselda Blanco in Lifetime’s movie Cocaine Godmother: The Griselda Blanco Story, which centers around the Colombian drug lord of the Medellín cartel during the 1970s, who is thought to have committed dozens of murders and crimes since a very early age in her life. It did not take long to see the outrage of people on social media who once again have to see a white person portray a character of a different ethnicity.
Was driving and saw this billboard and said the myself, “Nah, this can’t be real. They couldn’t find not one Latina to play this role?”
"Oh yes. Let’s let get our Welsh friend Cathrine Zeta Jones to play a Colombian drug-lord." pic.twitter.com/N6m8d78fQz
— alex medina (@mrmedina) January 15, 2018
This, however, is not the first time Zeta-Jones plays the role of a Latina or Hispanic woman. In 1998 and 2005, she played Elena de la Vega in the films The Mask of Zorro and The Legend of Zorro, respectively. In 2000, she played Helena Ayala in Steven Soderbergh’s movie Traffic.
Entertainment Weekly had an interview with her about her role, and she defended her decision:
“This happens to be the third Hispanic I’ve played. I played the lead in Zorro, and I screen-tested with six Hispanic women, and I got the role. I don’t know what to say,” she explained. “I have to take [the roles] I believe I can embody. I can’t be the person to fight against a very big issue, and I won’t take on that role. There have been so many actors who have played ‘against type.’ That’s sort of what we do.”
She finished her commentary by saying:
“I’m all for diversity, and diversity across the board. Not just color, race, sex — everything. I want to see more diversity behind the camera. This is a white man’s business, and now, hard to believe after all of these years, we’re finally trying to break that glass ceiling.”
There are many points to analyze on a situation like this. On one hand, it is each studio’s fault to keep casting white people in the few roles that could be given to minorities —who already have a hard time getting parts themselves.
According to Accenture, “Latinos purchase 25 percent of movie tickets, though they comprise just 17 percent of the population,” but a study conducted in 2015 showed that only 5.3 percent of characters analyzed in 800 different movies were Latino, and the number is not expected to have risen a lot since then. As a Latino myself, it is disappointing to know that so much talent goes unacknowledged, while filmmakers decide to put our stories on the screen.
On the other hand, actors like Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara, Tom Cruise and Catherine Zeta-Jones also have their piece of responsibility. All of them have been called out for whitewashing characters in popular films, and they definitely are not struggling to get other roles, as they are well-known and praised all the time, so why not just decline?
These controversies have happened so many times that it is unacceptable for actresses like Zeta-Jones in 2018 to say that because she looks like a Latina, she should be able to play one. She is excellent at her job, and it is great to know that she wanted to bring to the screen the story of a female drug lord, which is not seen very often, but she should have let someone else play Griselda instead.
If you still want to see Blanco’s story on the screen but do not want to support this project, HBO is preparing to release a movie about her starring Jennifer Lopez, although a release date is not known yet.
Cocaine Godmother: The Griselda Blanco Story will premier Jan. 20 on Lifetime.