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COMMENTARY- Death No Protection Against Insult; Academy Slights Actor Lupe Ontiveros in Memorial Tribute PDF Print E-mail
Written by Andres Chavez   
Thursday, 28 February 2013 07:52

AP PHOTO

Lupe Ontiveros

The Academy of Motion Picture and Arts Sciences threw rotten eggs at the memory of one of Hollywood's best character atresses by failing to include Lupe Ontiveros in their memorial tribute during the Feb. 24 Oscars ceremony.

Latinos remember her best in her captivating and painfully realistic portrayal as Yolanda Saldivar in the film "Selena." Others are likely to remember her as the maid in The Goonies."

This slight by the Academy is something that Ontiveros would have understood; she would not have agreed, and would've been angry about it. She would not have been surprised. Afterall, she knew firsthand about the racist nature of Hollywood.

Despite her talent, she was often stereotyped into playing maids, a role she played more than 150 times by her own estimate. Being the fine actress she was, she always gave the role dignity. "I've made chicken salad out of chicken manure. I'm proud to represent those hands that labor in this country, I've given every maid I've portrayed soul and heart," she said.

She suffered professionally because of Hollywood's stonehearted ignorance about U.S. Latinos.

"They don't know we're very much a part of this country and that we make up every part of this country. When I go in there and speak perfect English, I don't get the part," she said.

Death doesn't stop insults, So when insult was added to injury, Latino Hollywood and online communities went on the warpath. Thousands of people went online to protest Lupe Ontivero's exclusion from the Academy's 'In Memoriam' section.

The National Hispanic Media Coalition issued an open letter Tuesday, Feb 26, to the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expressing their unhappiness that Ontiveros was not included in the telecast.

The Academy's response was, as is always the case, bureaucratic; she was not a member of the Academy and that's why she was not mentioned. Of course the Academy ignored the fact that they had denied her membership despite being sponsored by Miguel Sandoval and Edward James Olmos. This was not ignored by NHMC. In their letter they stated, "It is astonishing that an actress of Ontiveros' caliber and experience was denied membership to the Academy."

She had been a working actress for 35 years. Her other film credits include "El Norte," "As Good as It Gets" and "Chuck & Buck."

NHMC's letter continues, "As the controversy of the Academy's omission of Lupe Ontiveros in the 'Oscars in Memoriam' subsides, we ask that the Academy take a moment to pause and reflect on its commitment to the growing U.S. Latino talent."

Late on Tuesday, following the protest, the Academy issued the following statement, "Lupe Ontiveros is among the many worthy artists we were unfortunately not able to feature in the In Memoriam segment of this year's Oscar show. She is, however, [now]included in our In Memoriam gallery on Oscar.com."

According to a Los Angeles Times survey conducted last year, Latino membership in the Academy is less than 2 percent. Academy CEO Dawn Hudson has expressed a desire to increase the diversity in the organization that is 94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male. One can wonder if we're hearing meaningless rhetoric when the Academy had a chance to admit Ontiveros but didn't.

The key to changing empty platitudes into concrete action is pressure from within and outside the Hollywood community.

One form of pressure is educating directors, producers and casting people not to think of people of color as being able to play only minorities. One privilege that Anglo actors always claim when they are cast as non- Anglos is that an actor should be able to play any role. That should work both ways.

Consider Wes Studi playing a detective in "Heat," Samuel Jackson a Jedi master in "Star Wars" or Signory Weaver playing the second officer in the Alien movies, a role originally written for a man. There is also economic and political pressure that can be applied.

While we should be angry at the slight paid Lupe Ontiveros we shouldn't stop there. By whatever means necessary, we should apply pressure to the Hollywood establishment to change their evil ways and expand the opportunities for Latinos and all those that make up the American fabric.

Ontiveros was never given the full opportunity to play the range of roles that she was capable of performing on screen and even in death she wasn't given the respect she so rightfully deserved. There are scores of talented Latino actors like Ontiveros who face the same plight and are asked to play sterotypical roles that are far removed from who we really are.

As Ontiveros said about her acting to 'make chicken salad out of chicken excrement', the right pressure should enable Latinos to make roast beef out of this latest Hollywood bull****.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 28 February 2013 08:00