Mamá, I made it! Look at me! Yes! I made it to Hollywood! And I get to work with Chihuahuas!
This was a big weekend for Colombia in Hollywood with one of our very own, Manolo Cardona, starring in Disney’s newly-released “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”.
The film, which came out at the top of the weekend box office, was promoted with a trailer featuring Spanish-speaking Chihuahua dogs questioning a snobbish Beverly Hills Chihuahua about her lack of ability to speak the language.
“Why would I speak Spanish?” asks the pampered Chihuahua voiced by Drew Barrymore. “Hello! You are Chihuahua mija” responds another dog with a stereotypical Hispanic accent.
A film with that kind of trailer and with a Colombian lead seemed too appealing to miss. So I headed to the movies to figure out what this film about dogs with Hispanic accents was about.
After the opening sequence in which Beverly Hills’ lap dogs travel in Louis Vuitton bags through Rodeo Drive and discuss Gucci amongst other brands, Manolo Cardona finally appears. I wondered, at the edge of my seat, waiting to see the kind of role that Cardona had scored.
As the camera looked up upon him, and the Colombian national anthem pridefully played in my head, I was suddenly hit by the weight of disappointment. Cardona’s role, while commendable, is quite unfortunate: a gardener.
Not only is he a gardener; he is a gardener who owns a dog called “Papi”. Just in case you were wondering, Papi gardens as well, as the other fancier nicer-looking dogs sit by the pool.
While gardening is honorable work, it is unfortunate that the one time that a Colombian actor lands a Hollywood leading role, such role feeds directly into stereotypes associated with Hispanics in the United States.
Cardona’s role is only the first of many unfortunate portrayals of Hispanics in the film. Some of the most notable include the suggestion that Chihuahuas represent Aztec culture, or that Chihuahuas with no collars will need coyotes to help them cross from Mexico into the United States (actual animal coyotes in this case).
The perpetuation of stereotypes about Hispanics, such as the mass media portrayals of Hispanics as domestic workers or gardeners; or the widespread suggestion that Hispanics in the United States all speak English deficiently and with the same accent, are highly reproachable.
More so, it is outrageous that those stereotypes are being legitimized in a film targeting children, and which includes Hispanic actors, such as Cardona. It would be hard to say that by playing a gardener Cardona has truly made advancements for Colombians in Hollywood – or at the very least, for the accurate portrayal of real Colombians.
So what will it take for Colombians to really make it into Hollywood? We already tried the sexy vixen role with Sofía Vergara, and the victimized drug mule with Catalina Sandino. Sadly, this latest attempt with the sweaty gardener serves to perpetuate stereotypes that Colombians, and Hispanics in general, have been associated with in the United States.
So the question remains, what will it take for Colombians and Colombian culture to really make it in Hollywood?
Author Felipe Estefan is Colombian and studies media and international relations at Syracuse University in New York.