The Problem With Catherine Zeta-Jones as the Godmother
Flickr cc | David Shankbone
Last time I wrote about the way Hispanic actors and actresses are shoved into stereotyped roles, people got frustrated. But guess what? A lot of people are just as frustrated by the fact that a beautiful Welsh actress just got handed a role that should have certainly gone to someone else.
Catherine Zeta-Jones was just cast as the late Griselda Blanco, the Colombian well known for her bloody rise to the top of the drug cartel and heavy presence in the Miami cocaine wars of the '70s and '80s. For most Miamians, her story is familiar because of its depiction in Billy Corben's Cocaine Cowboys films. Zeta-Jones will star as the drug kingpin in The Godmother, one of Blanco's many names during her reign.
If you've ever seen a photograph of Blanco, you can clearly see she's not exactly the supermodel type. Zeta-Jones, however, hardly ever looks like she doesn't belong on the big screen with a closeup on her face. But sadly, we live in a world where Saturday Night Live can get away with making those self-aware jokes about how "whites are still calling the shots till 2050" after getting called out constantly for their passive racism. And by that I mean: We live in a world where white people get every role.
There's no point in pussyfooting around the truth. Race and ethnicity are touchy subjects when it comes to whitewashing roles, because many Hispanics identify as white and don't really care if a Welsh actress with an already-established terrible Spanish accent (remember The Mask of Zorro?) is snatching the role away.
But let's be real: Catherine Zeta-Jones is the furthest thing from what Griselda Blanco looked like, unless the filmmakers plan to cake Zeta-Jones with an abundance of makeup and a weight change to accompany it. It's not unlikely Zeta-Jones could change herself drastically for the role, as other attractive actresses have portray conventionally unattractive women -- Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos, for instance -- but it's doubtful it'll actually happen.
The real Griselda Blanco.
In fact, I don't think I'd be making too bold a statement by claiming that this whole thing is more about sexism than white-washing. Over the years, we've seen more instances of Blanco being portrayed as a sexy, vengeful vixen, which she wasn't.
The recent telenovela La Viuda Negra depicts her as such, with the lovely actress Ana Serradilla in the role. But even American television has loosely inspired so-called sexy characters based on Blanco. Take a look at the animated series Archer, which is downright hilarious in its own right, but more than likely it intended the La Madrina drug lord character in its fifth-season episode "Smugglers' Blues" to remind audiences of Blanco.
This being said, I'm not diminishing The Godmother as a whole. It's the kind of biopic that could introduce more audiences to Blanco than a documentary ever could, and there's even a woman behind the camera. Director Eva Sørhaug's presence might mean a little less pandering to the male gaze than most films about "strong women." But that doesn't make this casting choice any better.
So let's try to imagine a world where the right women are getting chosen for these roles. If they desperately wanted a name that could be attached to the Oscars -- it's slim pickings considering there are fewer than ten Latinas who have been nominated and only one winner (Rita Moreno) -- an ideal option would be Adriana Barraza. She could use a showstopping film in a post-Babel world, but the disappearance of women of color's careers after winning or being nominated for Oscars is a sad conversation for another day.
There are plenty of Latinas capable of taking on this role. Now if only the filmmakers would actually choose one.
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