chen someone thinks of Latino characters in Hollywood, some names like Tony Montana, Frida Kahlo, Ricky Ricardo and Selena come to mind. Their stories have made them icons and paved the way for other Latinos in the entertainment industry.
Despite the impact of these characters, the representation of Latino protagonists in Hollywood remains low. In 2022, only 5.1% of films in the United States had a Latino as the protagonist. Of that percentage, only 2.5% of the papers were positive, according to the 2022 “Latinos in Media” report from the Latino Donor Collaborative (LDC).”
Eugenio Derbez wants to change not only the numbers of representation, but also the stereotypes, and his new film Radical, winner of the “Festival Favorite” award at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, is one step closer to her goal.
“I always believe that in the United States we get all the bad news from Mexico,” Derbez said. “Just the negative, the deaths that occurred and the violence that occurred.”
Based on a true story and first published in an article by Wired, Radical is about the primary school teacher, Sergio Juárez Correa, who introduced a new teaching method to his students in 2011, with which he managed to uncover their curiosity and potential, despite the violent and poor circumstances they live in the town of Matamoros, Mexico .
Latinos make up 19% of the population in the US, according to the 2020 census, and one in four people who go to the movies is Latino, according to LDC. But the negative stereotypes of gang members, drug traffickers, criminals, among others, predominate in film characters.
Ana Valdez, CEO of LDC, often says the faces, stories and talents of Latinos in the world of entertainment do not exist.
“Obviously, they are making us invisible and that is a big mistake, not only because it is wrong and immoral, but because it is also bad business,” Valdez said. “Sometimes Hollywood shows you the negative side of the victim or the poor immigrant, but it’s not that we don’t want to tell this story, but it’s not the only one.”
Just as teacher Sergio broke barriers with his teachings at the José Urbina López primary school, Derbez hopes to do the same, but with the message of history.
“I think being radical is breaking with what is established with stereotypes,” Derbez said. “That fight for what you believe in, going in the opposite direction, which everyone does in order to achieve a different result or to achieve your dreams.”
The film’s director, Christopher Zalla, spoke about how important it was for him and Derbez to be able to tell the story in a “vulnerable and natural” way.
To do this, they incorporated a recording method that consisted of three cameras, all recording at the same time, so that the cast did not know which angle they were being captured from, so that their interactions and behaviors looked genuine.
“We had to take away that sense of a Hollywood tale because this story is real,” Zalla said.
Although the primary school was known as ‘a place of punishment’, due to the violence and corruption of the town, Zalla did not want to show those aspects in the film.
“I didn’t want to focus on that which we’ve seen a lot of,” Zalla said. “And although it is part of the atmosphere, it is not our story.”
Derbez, who has been known for his comedy roles in his career, had to leave his comfort zone in order to play a more serious role. However, it was his playfulness that led him to connect with the cast, especially the young people, to whom he told jokes to keep them entertained during the long hours of recording.
“I had an incredible time,” Derbez said. “It was playing with them. It was playing all day to develop a true relationship and [esperar] “Let that be seen on the screen.”
With his role as Sergio, Derbez hopes to inspire students and teachers.
“I think maybe there aren’t that many Sergios in the world,” said the actor. “But I hope that this film inspires teachers to suddenly go a little outside the box and generate that curiosity in children.”
For Zalla and the team behind the film, their goal was to tell the story combining deep emotion with fun, taking into account what happened in Sergio’s class.
“The students needed that push, they needed that strength from someone who looks at you and values you,” Zalla said. “Having Eugenio Derbez doing that was that light. We entered a totally closed world and the job of the film was that we had to open it up.”
In 2022, only three of the top-100 films had a Latino protagonist. Derbez hopes to make a difference this year with Radical.
“It is time to focus on the good people who fight to have a better country,” said Derbez. “That is why this story of Sergio deserves to be told.”
Radical opens in theaters on November 3.