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Afterthoughts and Postscripts, 53.1: Mary Beltrán
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Afterthoughts on the Latinization of Hollywood: Not So Fast

Mary Beltrán, University of Texas at Austin


As I ponder developments in Hollywood since I completed the writing of "Fast and Bilingual: Fast & Furious and the Latinization of Racelessness” for Cinema Journal in 2012, I find myself questioning whether I was overly optimistic in my discussion of the Latinization of the Fast film franchise and of more concerted outreach to Latino audiences on the part of producers and promotional campaigns more generally. As I discuss in the essay, Fast & Furious (Justin Lin, 2009), the fourth film in the series, was remarkable regarding not only its revved up integration of Latino-oriented content, actors, and characters, but also its effective courting of the Latino audience. I had in fact been drawn to research the film and its promotion after hearing the news trumpeted in the trade journals that it had topped the domestic box office during its opening weekend in April 2009 with a staggering 46 percent Latino audience. While this was not unheard of at the time (a few other horror and action films have garnered similarly large Latino audiences), Hollywood producers and executives have much to learn still from these success stories, particularly regarding how foregrounding appeal to Latino audiences can encourage or even ensure domestic and global box office success.

As I learned from director Justin Lin while conducting my research on the film, the Latinization of this particular franchise was in large part coincidental, more an offshoot of the youth-oriented car culture that formed the backdrop of the franchise’s original East LA home base than an interpellation by design of Latino audiences. While not actively pursued, the Latino fans it garnered were welcomed and are now counted on by Universal, which has embraced the multiculti franchise as its top money earner of recent years. Whether contemporary Hollywood products such as this one with no responsibility to Latino audiences will sustain such accidental Latinization is another question, however, particularly when the financial bottom line and a proven and widely diverse global audience comes to encourage other priorities. Since the release of Fast & Furious in 2009 revived the franchise, it has progressed at an ever-increasing pace. Two new installments (Fast Five [2011] and Fast & Furious 6 [2013]), both directed by Justin Lin,were released, while Fast & Furious 7 is under production for an expected 2014 release. Lin has ultimately stepped away from the franchise, announcing in April 2013 that he was doing so because having to work on two of the films simultaneously would result in sacrificing narrative quality. It is worth exploring that as narrative development is getting short shrift in the franchise, that Latinidad is also increasingly less foregrounded in Fast’s story world, narratives, and with respect to its starring characters.


The crucial element of authorship provides a useful key to better understanding the future of Latinidad in the world of the Fast franchise and elsewhere in contemporary, Hollywood-driven diegeses. I learned from my interviews with Lin that his Taiwanese American experience and Orange County upbringing were vital to his reconceptualization of the Fast franchise as one in which dynamic, culturally competent, and often globe-hopping non-white characters were envisioned as equal partners to the original protagonists, Dominic Torretto and Brian O’Conner, played by Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. Popular Fast characters such as Korean American Han Seol-oh (Sung Kang) and Latin American Rico Santos and Tego Leo (played by Reaggaetoneros Don Omar and Tego Calderón in Fast & Furious and Fast Five) arguably exist because of Lin’s ability to imagine a truly pluralistic American and global story world in which Korean Americans and Latinos are just as interesting and badass as the usual Hollywood heroes.


The fact that Lin’s background is still quite unique among Hollywood creatives is important to remember. All too often, the continued ignorance of Hollywood creatives regarding what they’re missing in not bringing in non-white writers, directors, or producers is palpable. The first few episodes of FX’s season 1 of The Bridge (2013- ) serves as an excellent case in point. When this remake of the Scandinavian television series Bron, a collaboration of Sweden and Denmark,was re-envisioned with a storyline that spanned the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico, it seems that hiring Mexican American and Mexican writers with knowledge of the border culture of Texas and Mexico was not deemed a necessity. Showrunner Elwood Reid, with roots in the American Midwest, and Meredith Stiehm executive produce the series. New York City-based Latina writer Fernanda Coppel later joined as the writing team’s only Latino writer. Coppel noted in an interview that two Mexican technical advisors were also hired, to ensure the production represented Mexico authentically. In my review of the first few episodes, the lack of knowledge of Mexican American culture on the part of the writers results in the myopic and utterly false premise that El Paso and Juarez are polar opposites; what is notably missing is the fascinating Third Space of the border, a blend of Mexican and Anglo, that comprises El Paso life and culture. For the most part, the writers missed compelling narrative possibilities, opting instead to recreate clichéd platitudes about differences between Americans and Mexicans. It was saddening to see another example in these episodes, like in Fast and Furious 6, the most recent installment of the Fast franchise, of the attitude of many screenwriters that Latino characters and regions of the US will not be of interest to American viewers. When it comes to box office and potential profits, I think they couldn’t be more wrong.

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