Did Argo Whitewash an American Hero?


Friday, February 08, 2013

Argo has been one of last year’s most celebrated films. Ben Affleck directed the movie and stars as the CIA operative who masterminded the escape of six US embassy employees from Tehran during the 1979 hostage crisis. That man’s name is Tony Mendez, and Latinos in and out of Hollywood have questioned whether Affleck, a dyed-in-the-wool WASP, should have played Mendez, who is Mexican-American on his father’s side. Slate and Huffington Post commented on the issue when the film hit theaters in the fall, and stories have continued to appear on CNN.com, in the Latino press, and in the blogosphere. One blogger detailed many recent instances of whitewashing in celebrated films.

Moctesuma Esparza, a film producer and the CEO of Maya Cinemas, is troubled that a Latino actor was deprived of the powerful, unstereotypical Latino role as a CIA agent. “Mexican-Americans and Latinos aren’t getting a fair shake in Hollywood to create careers and become stars,” he told Kurt Andersen. Moreover, because the film is all most people will ever know of the event, it deprives the Latino community of a historical hero.

In an interview, Tony Mendez said that he doesn’t consider himself Hispanic, and expressed no reservations about Affleck portraying him. “That’s really not the issue,” for Esparza. “The issue is how does society see us? How has America seen us? If you have a Spanish surname and you look like someone who might be Mexican — or even if you’re blonde — you’re discriminated against.”

Esparza sees Affleck’s casting as emblematic of a movie industry with no compunctions about casting white non-Latinos to play revered figures, such as Marlon Brando as Emiliano Zapata, or Jeffrey Hunter as World War II hero Guy Gabaldon. (In a sign of progress, Johnny Depp recently turned down the role of Pancho Villa.)

In an opinion piece he wrote for La Prensa San Diego, Esparza, speaking as a producer, says that an A-list Tony Mendez wasn’t necessary to guarantee the film’s commercial success. “There was a whole host of characters in the movie where you could have cast around with other stars, and had an unknown, if you wanted, in the role of Mendez. That could be done — I’ve done that — it’s not difficult. It’s considered in Hollywood all the time.”


→ Should the Tony Mendez role have gone to a Latino actor? Tell us in a comment below.


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Moctesuma Esparza

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Ruth Samuelson

Comments [47]

Cali from Canada

The file on this mission has been declassified for well over a decade. Any Latino FileMaker could have produced and starred in the film. And for the record, I'm very offended that the actor playing the Prime Minister of Canada didn't look Canadian enough.

Apr. 03 2013 05:21 PM

Is this whitewashing? Yes
Is it a problem? Yes
Why? Because Hollywood rarely casts minorities in roles that don't specifically call for minorities, very few roles specifically call for minorities, thus it is almost perverse to not cast a minority in a role that is based on a real person that is a minority, or that specifically calls for a minority in that role.

If you don't see why this would be important to the >30% and growing minority population in the US and to the Majority non-white population of the rest of the world (many of whom get many (in some markets most) of their movies from the US), then spend the next year ONLY going to/watching movies where the main character, characters are neither the same gender, or race as you (and have your children exclusively watch those movie as well).

Food for thought, it is possible that whites will become a minority in a not to distant future US. Those of you who are white and have no problem with whitewashing, I wonder if you will feel the same when nearly all movies have only minority characters and those minorities 'brownwash' white characters?

Finally I am not as much tired of the lack of minorities (for which there is really no excuse) in movies as the general lack of diversity, I want to see older people as love interests, more women in general, women who are normal weight, who have been out in the sun recently, heroines with black, brown red hair, as well as darker skinned people.

Feb. 25 2013 04:59 PM
Vote Positive from NYC

The thing that bugs me about this issue is that a lot of the people who complain about whitewashing in the media are the same people who still pay to go to the cinema, still buy DVDs, still subscribe to cable.

The reason media producers whitewash characters is because they think that's what audiences want to see. And you know what? They make money hand over fist every time they whitewash characters of color, so it pretty much validates their diversity-negligent casting decisions.

What do we do about this? If you disagree with whitewashing, stop validating this form of institutional racism with your money! Take your money out of the system! Stop giving your money to diversity-negligent media companies. They don't deserve it. Stop going to the cinema, stop subscribing to cable television. There are other ways to consume that content without giving them your money.

Feb. 18 2013 01:18 AM
Karen from USA

Claude from Haymarket: Actually Latinos, most of whom are Mexican-American, make up 25% of those who buy movie tickets. In Los Angeles alone, Mexican-Americans buy the majority of movie tickets.

For me the issue isn't just that Mexican-Americans/Latinos are excluded from movies. It's that in Argo they took our story, our history and erased us from it.

Feb. 17 2013 03:08 PM
Karen from USA

Hollywood would never show a Mexican-American man as hero. Are you kidding me? It doesn't matter that he risked his life to save hostages. The fact that it was a Mexican-American who did these things must be buried. Mexicans can only be depicted as subservients and criminals.

Some of you really seem to get off on the fact that a white man played this character as if seeing it on screen makes it true. You think this will elevate you, but it just erases you. This has been going on for a long time. WWII hero Guy Gabaldon was played by a white man, and nobody knew about the history of Mexican-Americans in WWII. Even Ken Burns tried to erase this history a few years ago with his propaganda film subsidized by the US goverment. They have even erased Mexican-Americanas from the history books in Arizona.

They erase this history so they can continue to depcit all of us as "aliens," and subservient and criminal instead of as patriotic Americans just like them. And if Mexican-Americans think they have no history and no accomplishments, they will think they have no future.

In the movie A Beautiful Mind, director Ron Howard rewrote Alicia Nash, the real life Salvadoran woman who was a math student at MIT, and made her Irish-American. They even added a line about her "Irish temper." Of course if Alicia Nash were a Salvadoran maid, they would have cast a brown skinned Mexican or Central American actress, no problem. But a Salvadoran math student at MIT? Nope. Not even if it's TRUE.

Hollywood is a racist pile of BS. Don't wate your money on that garbage. Go to the library and read a book!

Feb. 17 2013 02:00 AM

Has anyone actually seen a picture of Tony Mendez? He doesn't really look obviously Chicano. He looks more like Marlon Brando than Michael Pena or Benjamin Bratt. Why promote the stereotype that all Latinos look a certain way or have a certain skin color? Who does that help? Focusing on this complaint by this guy somewhat trivializes the issue of whitewashing of Hollywood. I agree that this happens, but I don't think Argo is the best example.

Feb. 15 2013 05:05 PM
David from Michigan

Have you seen "the Impossible"? I watched and enjoyed the film about real life survival of the Tsunami which hit Thailand and that whole region. The british family was heroic and their story amazing! The credits at the end of the film reveal that the real life family is Spanish. I thought a great deal of the film up to that point. Who made the choice to make them British?

Feb. 14 2013 09:51 AM
JJ de la Cruz from NYC

If you're going to make a case against whitewashing in the media, the film Argo is probably the weakest example of it. Tony Mendez was only half Mexican, and he doesn't even consider himself Latino. There are other movies that have done much worse. Better examples would be Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Peter Ustinov as Charlie Chan, and Casper van Dien as Johnny Rico in Starship Troopers (the Robert Heinlein novel upon which the movie was based is about a Filipino soldier named Johnnie Rico). More recent examples would be the 2008 film 21, The Last Airbender, and All You Need Is Kill.

Feb. 14 2013 04:23 AM

To expand on Esperza's complaint then Latinos should only portray Latinos, to do otherwise would be a misrepresentation of the identities of other cultures. Most viewers couldn't care less what race or cultural identity an actor is unless it makes the portrayal more believable...as in the case of historical figures or films catering to cultural stereotypes.

It's reactionaries like Esparza that cause extreme political correctness. It seems that it's now mandatory that every commercial include a Latino, Asian, African, and European; or actors that are multi-racial—what is now popularly known as being racially ambiguous. Along with that, if the commercial features both a white and a black actor...the white actor is potrayed as the fool because to reverse the roles would be considered racist. As others have stated, Affleck most likely starred as a condition of financing. Still, considering the large number of Latin Americans with European ancestry...there really isn't anything to object to.

Lastly, if someone chooses not to be labeled by a racial or cultural identity, we should respect their choice and not place our own labels upon them. Someone needs to tell Esparza that racism and bigotry is so last century.

Feb. 12 2013 11:31 PM
Ana from USA

Hollywood seems to think that their fans will be offended if they see a non-white male doing somnthing so heroic. Either hollywood fans are raving racists and they can't stand the sight of a non-white man being in charge OR hollywood is too big of a wuss to take a chance on non-white actors. Obviously the former can't be true. White movie goers can't be that close minded that they can't even accept what has really happened.

Feb. 12 2013 08:06 PM
Steve Lubetkin from Cherry Hill, NJ

I agree that it would have been great for the role to have gone to an ethnic Mexican actor, and this is not the first time Hollywood has cast a white actor playing a character from another ethnic group.

On a related topic, we did an extensive podcast interview late last year with Mark Lijek, one of the six Americans who were "houseguests" of the Canadians. Mark has just published his own memoir of the experience, and it's a remarkable story even without the embellishments added by Hollywood. You can hear the interview at http://www.lubetkin.net/2012/10/19/middle-chamber-books-podcast-34-the-houseguests-the-true-story-behind-the-blockbuster-ben-affleck-movie-argo/.

Feb. 12 2013 02:14 PM
juepucta from Toronto

Latino is not a race.

I am as latino as they come and white as Affleck.

Your interviewee is wrong.

Feb. 12 2013 12:06 PM
Arthi from Seattle

I also disagree with Mr.Esparza. As a person who loves watching movies, I believe the best person to play a rola is someone who can act the part, regardless of ethnicity. Some of the best roles in films have been played by people who are not even remotely of the ethnicity of the role they are playing. For example, in the film Gandhi, Ben Kingsley played Mahatma Gandhi. I am Indian and we have seen this movies numerous times every year in India and nobody really ever felt that only an Indian should have played the role of such a visionary person, even though it was such a huge and instrumental role! And more recently, Daniel Day-Lewis has done an outstanding job of playing Lincoln, but he is British. Would we then argue that only an American should have played this role?
I just don't see acting as a career where we must show equal representation of all
minorities, rather as a place where talent is recognized regardless of who is involved.

Feb. 12 2013 11:23 AM
Constanza Miranda from Washington DC

I disagree with Mr.Esparza. I listened to the radio show and his comments made me a bit upset. Being a Latin American myself (and I am sorry, I am a South American, but also consider myself Americana) I do not believe that actors should be granted roles "just because they are unrepresented in their race or just because they are Latin American"(which is one of the points he made). This is, for me, the first form of discrimination. You are just implying that "Hispanics" cannot get roles just because they are Hispanics, and that they should be "helped?".I feel this kind of comments just make as weaker as a community. As a PhD student in Anthropology and Design, I've learned to fight my way through misrepresentation as a woman in academia (in the States and South America). And I would argue that having "help" in getting somewhere is just like creating another type of discriminatory decisions.

Feb. 12 2013 10:47 AM
Frank Senger from NYC, NY

Should Ben Affleck be allowed to play a Latino calls to mind many questions. Should we allow foreign actors to play Americans in American financed films? Aren't there enough Americans of the etnicities portrayed to use for the film?
Aren't there enought locations in the US that could have been used for locations? Why wasn't a Latin American country used? Why not Greece?
Why wasn't the text in Spanish or Creole? Why where English actors used in some of roles of Americans. Why did Americans play Canadians. Why where gay actors playing straights. Why where the Iranians cast as bad guys. Why weren't they played by Latinos. Why did they have a Jew as a leading Hollywood figure. Why were there no native Americans? Why no women in more commanding roles? Why was it a movie and not a play? Why is chocolate more popular in candies than brandied cherries? Unfortutatley there are still more white people in this country and that's where the money is.Should art be true or wishful thinking or is it just as pragmatic as the rest of everthing else in the world?

Feb. 11 2013 09:09 PM
Al P.

As an American of Latin descent working in the industry I agree & disagree with a lot of the points being made. I myself am taking the steps toward producing, writing & directing my Own projects with the intent to create vehicles for myself. Their is a classwhat I call the Invisibles of this country..... and this those of who consider ourselfs AMERICANS..... if and when this country can abolish these hyphins of Mex-Amer, Japanese-american, etc and become JUST American

Feb. 11 2013 01:00 PM
J T from Texas

If Ben Afleck wants to make a move and start in it I think he has the right to do so. One reason I wanted to see the movie is because he starred in it. Movies are by nature fiction, are they supposed to be 100% accurate now also? Does anyone else have the right to say what,who, how another makes a movie? It is an artistic expression of an event. No one claimed a movie has to be 100% truth.

Feb. 10 2013 07:52 PM
David from Salt Lake City

I have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Esparza. I understand where he is coming from because for decades Hollywood has whitewashed or withheld roles from people of color. I do not think that that is the case with Argo. I make this statement as someone who has degree in film and media arts as well as having worked professionally as an actor while being a black person of hispanic descent. I understand that this is a film where Affleck portrays a Mexican-American, and that he may not look like the actual Tony Mendez, but who is to say someone of the same background couldn't look like Affleck? I know a person who is of Mexican and Anglo ancestry and he looks far more waspish than Ben Affleck. I might have been able to go along with Mr. Esparza if he hadn't been so sweeping as to use the term Latino rather than Mexican, Mexican-American, or Chicano. Latinos have a varied appearance; from Jessica Alba to Zoe Saldana. As a black person growing up speaking Spanish, I have often found that mestizos are reluctant to validate the heritage of those who do not fit the mestizo appearance. In fact, there are a lot of hispanophones who have European and African ancestry, and in Mexico particularly the former. Where I do agree is that Affleck's performance did little for the movie.

Feb. 10 2013 02:58 PM
Karla from Chelmsford Ma

I think that Ben Affleck just liked the role and wanted to play it himself. He probably should have picked a latino that looked like Tony Mendez to make his movie more accurate. If Tony Mendez felt like he was a latino or was an important part of him it should be mentioned.
People like Charlie Sheen and Cameron Diaz who don't seem to speak Spanish, nor identify themselves/feel they are latinos or are not familiar with the latin culture should not be pigeon holed as latinos just because of a last name. It's like when people have Scottish or French Canadian ancestry but do not know much about their family's culture nor practice it. They do not represent latinos just assimilated Americans who are regular Americans at this point.

It is interesting to know that latinos are 35% of movie goers. We should be represented in movies since we are part of the American population and obviously contribute to movie profits. The same with Asians and blacks. There are very few roles for Asians and a lot of negative roles for blacks. Most foreign/ethnic roles tend to be caricatures of our culture due to a lot of ignorance about our cultures. Mariachis, cartels, ghettos, martial arts, criminals, non English speakers do not represent all of us. We are normal good, bad, professionals, working class, etc.

Feb. 10 2013 02:42 PM
Sam Payne from Springville, Utah

This story left me wondering if the argument has room for what Mendez himself thought of the casting. The little that I've read about his relationship with the movie suggests he didn't have any complaints. He and his colleagues have seemed (again, in the little I've read)even to defend many aspects of the film that others have criticized. The issue is larger than Mendez, of course, but it would seem a shame if the argument currently using him at its poster boy failed to acknowledge Mendez' fondness for the film, and his satisfaction with Affleck's portrayal.

Feb. 10 2013 02:30 PM
Peter Lake from Marblehead

For years no Native American played an Indian because it was thought they couldn't act.

As for Affleck -- it took him five years to get the movie made, so we hear, even with him attached.

Who's the Latino actor who could have filled Mendez's role and gotten the go-ahead for this film?

It's no use to complain about Hollywood's ways without suggesting specific alternate casting for this project.

Feb. 10 2013 02:17 PM

Thank you for the Esparza interview. It's funny how it is important to mention all of one's ancestors when not too long ago if you had one drop of black blood you were classified as Negro. The real problem here is Ben Affleck's ego. He has to be on the screen because he is 'all that.' I remember when he dated, and was going to marry, Jennifer Lopez until her realized that she was more famous than he (or maybe a touch of racism was there.) Anthony Quinn, who also identified himself as a Latino, (accent and all) there were few actors who could play the roles cited with the box office draw that he had. Eli Wallach, Jewish, played every non-white as well. As for Denzel playing Eisenhower don't worry, it would never happen in this country where the white man has all of the power. BTW Tony Mendez's author name is Antonio J. Mendez and if that's not Latino...

Feb. 10 2013 12:49 PM
Roxanne from RI

How is this different from using Julia Roberts to play Michael Collins' sweetheart? A there no Irish actresses who could have played that role with more conviction, more believability? Aren't there enough phony Irish accents out there? This is perhaps less about ethnic discrimination and more about box office. To this day, despite the fact that I love the movie... I cringe when Ms. Roberts opens her mouth.

Feb. 10 2013 12:35 PM
Dan from Nj

What a non issue!!

Feb. 10 2013 11:56 AM
Nancy from Roslyn Heights

I was very pleased about your story and yes, I totally agree with the comments that a Latino actor should have been cast in the role of Tony Menendez. A white American CIA agent would most likely have been detected by the Iranian revolutionaries and been executed along with the hostages. It is therefore very disappointing that Ben Affleck did not cast a Latino actor, for both cinematic reasons, and historical reasons. It was also a lost opportunity for the CIA to recruit more Latinos who may have unique skills in securing intelligence in Latino countries and worldwide.

Feb. 10 2013 11:54 AM

Interesting segement, but where were the stories about Johnny Depp being chosen to portray a Native American ...somewhat mockingly...? Why is there a gag order in the US on NA issues? ...the war in Canada in the '90s, marches & protests of thousands in the last 8 weeks, is that White-washing?

Feb. 10 2013 11:48 AM
Paul Ramirez from Yonkers, NY

I was very pleased to listen to the views of director Moctezuma Esparza concerning the inaccuracy and under representation of Hispanics, both in film and in their character portrayal. Knowing that a character as important as that of Tony Mendez in Argo was filled in by an Anglo actor leaves the impression that there are no Hispanic actors of quality. We know, of course that this is supremely incorrect.
I am also in agreement that "assimilation" into mainstream American society is no guarantee that Hispanics have not and will not face discrimination from the rest of society. I, also, have no discernible accent, nor do I "look" typically Hispanic. However, once people see my last name, they have made rather queer assumptions. I have been asked if I speak English (I have no Spanish accent, as English is my FIRST language". High School Phys Ed teachers assumed that I played "beisbol" and "futbol" exclusively (In fact, I played Hockey). I have been asked when I became a citizen, despite the fact that I was born in the Bronx, as were my brother and sister. This does not speak of assumptions about my tastes in food, music and clothing that I have heard directed toward me.
This harkens back to perhaps the most insulting choice of character portrayal when Al Pacino took on the role of Tony Montoya in the cult classic "Scarface". In fact, of the major characters in that movie, there are 3 Italian, 1 German and 1 Jewish actors. The only Hispanic actor was the Mother.
We Hispanics are a vital, integral and hard-working segment of American society. We need to be seen as more that farm workers, maids and drug dealers.

Feb. 10 2013 11:38 AM
AFR from Jackson Heights

When an individual becomes more acculturated and assimilated into the mainstream racism does not necessarily disappear. It has not been my experience nor that of many people of color whom I know. In fact, many young people who enter majority campuses often experience comments such as "I didn't know people like you attended our college" or "You must be on a scholarship." Assumptions about people with a Latino surname or whose skin color is dark do not change because they have shed some aspects of their cultural heritages.

Feb. 10 2013 11:32 AM
David Goldberg from NYC

Your interviewer's question to a man with a name like Montezuma Esperanza (sorry, I hope I have the name right) as to whether he was assimilated was really bizarre. The interviewer said something to the effect of You sound assimilated -- as if speaking un accented English means assimilation. Check out the man's name - has he changed it to Monty Hope? And what about the substance of his concerns? If he was assimilated, he wouldn't care about the representation and employment of his people. I think your interviewer had a very simplistic and rather primitive take on a complex American phenomenon. I don't know whether Mr Esperanza knows Spanish, whether his children know Spanish, or whether he eats tortillas with his Thanksgiving turkey, but he sure didn't seem to have lost touch with his past to me.
David Goldberg

Feb. 10 2013 11:27 AM
CJ from NY

Ouch! I am part Irish, and I want 'Tony' to be represented as such, by an Irish decent actor....................... Hey, what's fair?

Feb. 10 2013 11:23 AM
joan junior from NYC

I came to this site to comment after listening to the interview....don't need to. Other writers have done justice to the feelings I share...I especially enjoyed the commentor who left his phone number!! Nice to see and read that other people who care can express themselves so well....good on ya!!

Feb. 10 2013 11:21 AM
Studio 360

@Bill from Maryland,
The opinion you're objecting is that of an interview guest, a film producer and theater chain operator who is active in Latino media. We're not promoting Mr. Esparza's opinion, we're discussing a viewpoint, which a number of other Latino commentators share. If you listen to the segment you'll note that the guest becomes frustrated with the direction Kurt Andersen takes at one point, so we are not merely serving as a mouthpiece for his opinion.

When we discuss controversial cultural issues on our program, you should expect to hear opinions that you disagree with. In fact, if you find yourself agreeing with every single thing you heard on the program, something would be amiss, and you should let us know.

-Studio 360 Editor

Feb. 10 2013 11:15 AM
Ana from Maryland

I can see how Ben Affleck’s portrayal Antonio “Tony” Mendez in Argo could be the straw that broke the camel’s back in Mr. Esparza’s view that Hollywwod is “perpetuating ethnic and racial invisibility of Latinos in Hollywood.” Hollywood has certainly done a lousy of portraying Latinos & has frequently had non-Latino actors portray Latino characters.

Then again, Anthony Quinn who's Mexican & Irish, played an Arab in Lawrence of Arabia and Lion of the Desert, a Greek in Zorba & in Onassis (and I suppose also all the times he played Zeus), an Italian in Stradivari, Mobsters, Gotti, & several other films, a Jew in Jesus of Nazareth, and Crazy Horse – just to name a few of his many roles. My point is that Latinos are not the only ethnic group that has been treated this way. Although clearly its mistreatment of Latinos has been pervasive & long standing.

I agree w/ Mr. Esparza that “Mexican-Americans and Latinos aren’t getting a fair shake in Hollywood to create careers and become stars.” Some were Americanized to increase their acceptability in leading roles - e.g., Rita Hayworth. Some actors, like Carmen Miranda, were straight-jacketed in a stereotype & never able to display their acting potential. Things have improved a bit, but Hollywood has a long way to go.

However, it seems to me that Mr. Esparza is wrong to come down so hard on Ben Affleck. Argo is Ben Afleck’s film. While Affleck was not the original promoter of Argo, he had a hand in making it the film as it turned out. He directed it & put his money into it. Generally in Hollywood, a producer/director can pick anyone he wants for the lead. In picking himself, Affleck isn't being racist. He may be indulging in a bit of narcissism or he may be trying to improve his standing in Hollywood and his chances to win an Oscar.

Affleck has no Mexican ancestry, but also as far as I know, has no Irish or Italian ancestry. According to Wikipedia, Tony Mendez “is of Irish, Italian, and Mexican ancestry.” Tony Mendez may have a Latino last name, but his background encompasses several ethnicities & he is US born & bred. Even if this were a mistreatment of a Latino role, it’s not a very egregious one in the history of Hollywood.

Finally, there’s the fact that Affleck is not playing a fictional Latino. He is playing a living person who has no problems with Affleck playing him. Mr. Esparza says that’s not the point. That may not be the point Mr. Esparza wishes for Mr. Mendez, but Mr. Mendez and he more than anyone gets a say in how he is portrayed. If Mr. Mendez doesn’t consider himself Hispanic, then maybe he is not the Latino role model Mr. Esparza seeks in film. Mr. Esparza should reserve his criticism for a film that merits it, or he could spend his money producing a film with the kind of Latino hero he wants, depicted by the Latino of his choice. If he as a film producer can’t change things, I doubt he can change them as a movie critic.

Feb. 10 2013 01:18 AM
Grace Garza from Houston

What a disappointing interview with Mr. Moctesuma Esparza, a film producer and the CEO of Maya Cinemas in Texas. Mr. Esparza had to work hard to come up with his complaint and he did not do his research. The result of the discussion with Kurt Anderson; he became the individual playing the race card.
The agent played by Ben Afflack was working undercover, his name was not important. Mendoza was an American with Latin history, he was an American with Irish history, he did not speak Spanish. He was an American citizen. The majority of us have mixed backgrounds but does that require us to divert back to heritage or DNA to gain an edge? Let us leave the race card out and enjoy the show.

Mr. Esparaza can call 1-800-537-8822 wah wah wah wah

Feb. 09 2013 09:17 PM
Mary Skeen from Maryland

Color blind casting works both ways. Must Denzel Washington play only African-American roles--must an American actor play Lincoln? How about the best man or woman for the job? Cant' we have that?
By the way, Mr. Esparza seems to forget that Mr. Mendez's name was rarely mentioned in the film because he was a SPY who went by another name.

Feb. 09 2013 06:23 PM
Angela from Brooklyn

Who does get a fair shake in Hollywood? Women? Asians? African-Americans? Film-makers make the movies they want to make, some based on commercial potential, some based on telling the story they want to tell. I've co-produced an indie film and written two screenplays, and as with any other artistic endeavor, I don't feel that the "industry" owes me anything. Mr. Esparza runs a film company; instead of complaining about Hollywood, I would suggest his time would be better spent working on producing movies of the stories he wants to tell, with the actors he wants to cast.

Feb. 09 2013 06:03 PM
Tony from Yonkers, NY

I found Mr. Esparza's points both valid and irrelevant. Latino actors should be considered first and foremost for Latino roles. But. as a previous post mentioned, the role was that of a Latino/Irish American. Should the role of Tony Mendez have gone to someone who was hispanic and not the least bit Irish? Would that have been fair?

Hollywood film-making is a combination of art and commerce. Mr. Esparza's remarks about how he would cast the film are a bit presumptuous. How could he know that Ben Affleck was not needed as a "star" who would help market the film? Unless he has some insider information, how could he possibly know what it takes and what deals needed to be made to green-light this film?

I'm all for traditional and non-traditional casting. In my history as a Broadway performer, I had the opportunity to be a part of groundbreaking productions (Miss Saigon and Carousel) that paved the way for both ethnically accurate and color-blind casting. Ultimately, I think each film or live stage production is a mix of creative and financial factors. Hopefully the best actor is cast for the role, based on the vision of the creative team involved.

Feb. 09 2013 04:44 PM
Vickie from Leesburg

Been Affleck directed the movie, he had the say in the casting. Maybe he did the movie because he wanted to be the lead! Why does everything have to be controversial about ?

Feb. 09 2013 03:18 PM
Rebeca Garcia from Washington DC

I do agree that the Latino aspect of Mr. Tony Mendez was not the center of the portrayal of the character in the movie, but I think that that was the purpose: that a CIA agent saved a group of Americans under extremely difficult circumstances, whether he was of Latino origin and the other peopme were of whatever origin. As for the fact that Mr. Mendez was portrayed by Ben Affleck, that can be argumentative: how about all the Latinos that have portrayed other nationalities? (for example, Anthony Queen being Mexican and portraying a Greek, or an Italian, or even Americans?) I just hope that we can avoid the "discrimination" card (which at the end is not good for anybody) and instead encourage goos stories (like Argo) and good actors, no matter their race, color and/or origin.

Feb. 09 2013 02:41 PM
Claude from Haymarket

Hollywood sees only one color: green.
And most successful Hollywood producers are only fairly good at what they do. Moctesuma Esparza is one of these.
Ben Affleck was cast as Tony Mendez because that was the only way the producers could get funding for the picture.
If a Mexican had been cast as Mendez, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and possibly Bryan Cranston would not have been in the movie either, and the movie, if it was made, would have gone straight to DVD and maybe would show up on the History or Military channel.
You see, the majority of moviegoers are white, suburban males between the ages of 16-25 and they are in the theater because they want to feel up the girl they brought in there with them. They don't care about truth, race, depth or story. They just don't want to go to a chick flick. This is who Hollywood plays to, and Hollywood doesn't like to gamble.
People like Esparza need to understand that success does not go to people who deserve it. Success does not go to people who put in their time. Success goes to people who strive for it. Moctesuma Esparza needs to make movies for Latins and enter them at Sundance. Only after those movies make big profits will the mainstream money start going to Esparza and other producers who want what he wants.

Feb. 09 2013 02:39 PM
Bill from Maryland

I found this program racist in suggesting a white actor should be denied a role soley because of his race. I don't hear this guest, nor anyone one else on this program, complaining about white historical figures being played by non-white actors, so why this double-standard?

For example, Billy the Kid, in real life, was full-blooded Irish-American, yet in the Young Guns movies, he was played wonderfully by Latino actor Emilio Estevez. I don't see Esparza whining about how white actors were denied "a fair shake" when that role was given to the best actor available instead of to a less appropriate actor of the same ethnic heritage as the historical figure played.

Why is Studio 360 presenting and promoting a racist double-standard?

Feb. 09 2013 02:27 PM
Beth from DC

Having never heard of Tony Mendez before seeing Argo, I totally got the message that he was Latino. From this interview I learned he was also half-Irish. Like Tony Mendez, Ben Affleck is part Irish. I agree with Esparza that Latinos are underrepresented in Hollywood, but this objection seems a bit opportunistic. Affleck did not play Cesar Chavez. He played an Irish-Hispanic.

Feb. 09 2013 02:24 PM
Koreamerican from DC

Did I just hear Mr. Esparza stating that Hispanics are the least represented minority in Hollywood? What about Asian-Americans? What about Native-Americans?

Feb. 09 2013 02:23 PM
joanneessen from San Jose, Ca.

I agree that Latino/Mexican American heroes continue to be hidden from the lime light and is a result of our people not getting the facts straight that we come from a culture that has contributed greatly to society from the sciences, military, politics and in entertainment. I think the role should have definitely been played by Latino actors, which by the way, we have plenty of thanks to those who have paved their way with great difficulty. This is another example of denying our people with the education, knowledge and pride of our contributions, of our culture and the pride we "should" be feeling rather than the shame caused by all the negative stereotypical roles we generally see our people portray.

Feb. 09 2013 12:38 PM
Kristen from Charlottesville, VA

I believe that the film is 'whitewashed,' but I also believe it was the most effective way to popularize Tony's story in the politic context of Hollywood. I look forward to the day of no whitewash, but I think such portrayals are an important step.

Feb. 09 2013 11:19 AM
JH from Maryland

Very provocative piece and I liked the bite as a radio story. You do have to wonder if people would have flocked to the movie without Affleck's star-power. However, I agree with Esparza that everyone needs to see the full panoply of every group and not have whites represent non-whites. Aren't we tired of seeing mainly negative representations of Latinos? The piece reminded me of Edward James Olmos' crusade years ago to bring more Hispanic-Americans into prime roles and to get Hollywood to produce better scripts for mass viewing that better represent Latino culture in America.

Feb. 07 2013 10:52 PM
Deenie from Oklahoma

I was very disappointed, but not surprised, that Tony Mendez was portrayed by director Ben Affleck in "Argo". Afterall, when the movie "World Trade Center" aired, it portrayed the two marines (David Karnes and Jason Thomas) who rescued the two Port Authority police, somehow the producers/director got their names right, but claimed that they did not know until they'd begun production that Sgt. Thomas was African American. Thomas was portrayed by a white actor.
Hollywood does a great disservice to moviegoers and society in general when it portrays real-life heroes who are people of color as people who are white.
Imagine the outcry if a movie about Pres. Dwight Eisenhower starred Denzel Washington as the WWII general, or if Amelia Earhart was played by Angela Bassett.

Feb. 07 2013 09:46 PM

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