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There’s been a lot of talk about diversity this year. Calls for more of it, celebrations of it, and we here at CinemaBlend have even done a few dream castings. But what is it like for an actor to have so much weight put on something like race or ethnicity, when the entire point of their job is to become someone else? Santiago Cabrera, star of Godmothered on Disney+, shared some insight on diversity in the film industry from an actor's perspective.
Santiago Cabrera is an extremely talented at his craft. You’ve seen him in Big Little Lies, Merlin, and Heroes to name a few. He originally thought he would be a professional soccer player, but then discovered that moving around a lot as a kid and experiencing different cultures prepared him to be an actor and he found his thing. In an interview with CinemaBlend, Cabrera said this of his experience:
When I first arrived as a Latin American here, I very quickly realized that I was seen as a race not as a culture, being Latino. I lived in England and I could do an American accent or speak like an Englishman, but it was like, ‘What are you doing? You’re meant to speak as a Latino and you’re meant to be playing these kinds of roles.’ So that’s always been a battle. Now, my initial instinct was like, why are we making reference to colors all the time and why are we making it so obvious like this person should be Caucasian and this person should be this, like I didn't understand why everybody was pointing fingers at it, and then you start to understand the history of America and you go, 'It’s very necessary." Because if not, people don’t get it anywhere and these conversations need to be had. So I kind of very quickly understood what a necessary fight it is to have but I think, in an ideal world, we would just cast people for being people, you know?
Actors should always be cast for being people. That’s what acting is all about - telling stories about people. That being said, to tell a diverse set of stories, a diverse group of people is needed to tell them. So how can the industry make sure that happens? Santiago continued describing how things would work in an ideal world. In his own words,
We wouldn’t have the need to kind of go, ‘Okay, we need to mix up the colors.’ It would just be like, ‘These are the stories and these are the people who are right for the stories.’ I do think when you are a minority in this country and in this industry, it’s hard enough for everyone you know being an actor and being able to work. It’s like you’re carrying some extra luggage and just that extra hurdle that you have to fight for the time. Things are getting better, for sure, people are more understanding, but the main battle is behind the scenes. If I’m going to be Latino in a show, there needs to be a couple of Latino writers because if not, you know, what do you know about who I am? So the experience needs to be much more behind the scenes so that we can fall into more interesting characters and stories.
Sounds like the key is for the work to begin behind the scenes, which makes sense, because the story needs to be written before it can be cast. And both the writing and the casting are done with a specific vision in mind. When more kinds of people are included in that decision-making process, the final product is able to touch a more broad audience. As Santiago Cabrera told CinemaBlend:
If this year has taught us anything, it’s to raise our voice and to ask those questions 100%...and now people are much braver to. Before it was almost like you felt, ‘Oh my God, I was so grateful that I was cast in a role that wasn’t Latino as a Latino! Wow, I’ve broken that mold.’ Where really it’s like, no. My battle’s always been to be seen - to be right for it as a human being, as a person… Sometimes there’s this complete ignorance and you see it still today in scripts where people are putting number one and number two it’s Caucasian, Caucasian...and he’s an artist in New York. Who cares? Why does he need to be Caucasian? What are you talking about? Do you know what I mean? Unless it’s a specific story about race and about the deep south at a certain time period or something, what are you doing? It still happens, I feel like there’s more consciousness now, but we need to keep sort of raising our voices for sure and fighting against it.
I couldn't agree more, and am personally very excited to see all the positive strides the industry is taking in the area. There will always be stories to tell, and as filmmakers keep finding new and inventive ways to tell them, actors like Cabrera are bringing them to life. You can catch Santiago Cabrera in his latest film, Godmothered, currently streaming on Disney+.