Hollywood Needs Actors Accents, From Blonde to Star Wars (Column)

Hollywood Needs Actors Accents, From Blonde to Star Wars (Column) ...

The Warner Bros. Discovery decision to halt production of Blonde sent me in another direction: John Leguizamo slammed James Franco's decision to cast him as Fidel Castro.

When mini-scandals demand a case-by-case assessment, it's tricky to address the subtleties of a sensitive cultural landscape. Most people haven't seen Blonde yet (including me), so who's to judge the end result? Yes, Franco looks like Castro, but Leguizamos makes a point about the lack of opportunities for Latino actors.

Actors pretend to be people different from themselves, without a doubt. Another issue with these stories is that non-American actors are still stigmatized in Hollywood, even among those who succeed with them. (De Armas and Leguizamo were unavailable for comment, but Leguizamo had plenty to add on his Instagram.)

John Leguizamo (@johnleguizamo) has shared a post.

Jamie Lee Curtis accidentally slapped de Armas, her Knives Out co-star, when she stated that during her first meeting with the actress she assumed because she had come from Cuba, she had just arrived. I made an assumption that she was an unexperienced, unsophisticated young lady.

This kind of prejudice toward accents, conscious or otherwise, has lingered in the industry for years. When I was very young, like 20 years ago, there was a whole discussion about losing your accent, Mexican actor Diego Luna told me this week. It used to be referred to as neutralizing, as if you could just get rid of it. It was a fear of understanding.

Luna called me from Mexico City after finishing a media briefing to promote the new Disney+ series Andor, where he reprises his role as the Star Wars rebel he first played in Rogue One. It wasnt a conscious decision to keep my accent. If they hire me, I come with this, he says. But when they cast me, they're clearly indicating that they're trying to represent a different reality to the one we know.

Luna and his pal Gael Garcia Bernal have grown beyond the pressure to change their accents in the interest of better jobs. I still hear about some projects that think in that very old-fashioned way, Luna said. But I don't think they're the majority now.

Lucasfilm Ltd. is a subsidiary of Lucasfilm.

Luna argued against another technique that stigmatizes accents, namely the tendency to have actors speak in accented English in situations where the characters should realistically converse in their native language. Let's make sure when parents are talking to their children that they understand the language they are speaking, it's my view.

The popularity of foreign-language programs, including his own Narcos on Netflix, has negated the resistance to using foreign-language programs over accents. The show was huge, and people were watching it with subtitles.

Luna was hesitant to speak out on the Franco casting. It's dangerous, because there are two parts to the conversation here, he said. You should be able to explore and get yourself into whatever challenge you want to pursue. That's what acting is all about. But this particular case is another. It's the sheer amount of opportunities a community has to offer.

Luna, who will play Bernal in the upcoming Hulu series La Maquina in Spanish, is optimistic for international actors about the industry's direction. Every day, I meet very knowledgeable individuals who are working to improve things and make things better. The debate is becoming more complex and more interesting. I would rather be doing theater in Mexico every day.

Luna claims to be a professional speaker for years. No one approaches him with the assumption that he would be able to Americanize his voice. It's become as much a part of his public-facing brand as Arnold Schwarzenegger. I'm not someone who can actually pretend to be a native English speaker, Luna said.

screenshot/A24

Maria Bakalova, who is a newbie to Bulgaria, faces a different challenge. She was a newbie to the film industry and was unsure how her accent would limit her opportunities.

Bakalova is expected to play Cosmo the Spacedog in next year's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (in Guardians, she is expected to sing Russian; Cosmo is a tribute to Laika, the first dog in space). However, she has been taking classes to adapt an American accent.

She stated that she will keep my accent for the rest of my life because it is my authentic self. Ill do my best to maintain the American accent that I have always dreamed of. But at the end of the day, I think it's important to keep my accent.

The mention of Cuban in the Blonde teaser made Ana de Armas an instant hit. Thats what it should be about, she said. It sounds like she has a natural accent, and it should be about the feeling you get from the performance. There are a lot of things in the world that have been hidden from us for so long.

I grew up in a multicultural household where accents were a part of the everyday life. If you did, then you would probably find this conversation self-evidence: Accents should be embedded into storytelling in film and television, regardless of whether or not they have been assigned a specific purpose for being part of a plot. Diversity isn't just about what people look like.

Despite their achievements, accented performers are often left out. This is due to deep-seated prejudices, which many filmmakers and industry gatekeepers may harbor without realizing it, simply because it is a departure from the reality they know. This one is putting a damper on a huge opportunity that may well go to the bottom line.

Id love to hear from you if you are a filmmaker, actor, agent, casting director, or someone else who has strong feelings about this topic. email me at eric@indiewire.com.

Last weeks column on the Batgirl situation elicited some powerful responses. Here is one from an actor who played a minor role in the film but demanded anonymity:

I felt a great deal of relief (and sincere sadness) reading your excellent article and the examination of this whole nightmare. The multiple streaming options and their vague guarantees appear anything but secure.

I am extremely offended by what transpired and I am heartbroken for the directors and Leslie Grace, who were all wonderful to work with, as well as all of the technicians. It was an incredible and rewarding experience to produce this film during Covid and during the cold weather in Glasgow.

To an impolite person, none of these things are worth it. David Zaslav, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO, is stunning. I am glad I got to participate, and I wish the best for all involved, except the suits at Warner Brothers. But all of them will be replaced sooner than later.

Anonymous is a pseudonymous organization.

Eric Kohn's previous columns may be seen here.