Javier Bardem Desi Arnaz
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/General Artists Corp./ David Torcivia
News and Entertainment

‘Being the Ricardos’ Casting of Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz is Problematic

Latinx representation in Hollywood is limited both behind the scenes and in front of the camera so the cast reveal for the upcoming Being the Ricardos is disappointing though not surprising. The film is about I Love Lucy stars and real-life married couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz who Deadline reports will be played by Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem. Both award-winning actors are undoubtedly talented but the casting of Bardem, who is Spanish, to play Arnaz, a Cuban who ofter referred to Cuba on the show, is problematic. Latinx Twitter responded to the news calling out the fact that casting a Spanish actor is not Latinx representation and there are plenty of Cuban actors to consider including Raúl Esparza (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and Danny Pino, who played Arnaz on the CBS special, Lucy.

His Cuban roots were not just part of his identity off-screen, it was often included in the show itself so it’s all the more reason to cast an actor with those ties. When only 3 percent of movies featured Latinx actors in lead roles from 2007 through 2018 in the 100 top-grossing films and Latinx characters made up only 4.5 percent of the 47,268 total films studies, it’s clear there’s still a long way to go. Casting a Spanish actor to play a famously Cuban actor is a missed opportunity to hire someone who is also of Cuban descent and only continues the trend of diminishing Latinidad to one identity.

The film is set during one production week of I Love Lucy — Monday table read through Friday audience filming— when Lucy and Desi face a crisis that could end their careers and another that could end their marriage. Publications including Entertainment Weekly report that the film’s screenwriter/director Aaron Sorkin’s fascination with politics means the script will focus on when Ball was under investigation for being a communist. She met with an investigator from the House of the Un-American Activities Committee in relation to when she registered to vote in 1936 and listed her party as Communist. EW reports she insisted it was only because of her socialist grandfather and that was never a member of the party.

Arnaz famously greeted the audience before the taping of episode 68 of the show to address the accusations against Ball saying “The only thing red about Lucy is her hair, and even that is not legitimate.”

Ball and Arnaz were married in 1940 and developed the beloved series I Love Lucy in 1951 through their production company, Desilu Productions. The couple starred as married couple Lucy and Ricky Ricardo where Lucy was the quirky wife trying to break into show biz and Ricky was the band leader at a club. Their marriage on screen was perfectly imperfect however their real-life marriage ended in 1960 when Ball filed for divorce.  The series ended in 1957,  and they launched The Lucy-Desi Comedy hour featuring 13 one-hour specials that ran from 1957 to 1960. Ball filed for divorce the day after the last hour-long episode was filmed.