The Lifetime movie Cocaine Godmother: The Griselda Blanco Story had the makings of a great biopic. According to their website, it is a “feature based on the life of drug lord Griselda Blanco, a pioneer in the Miami-based cocaine trade.” As controversial as Blanco’s story may be, seeing the story of a Latina on screen may have been exciting for the many of us who recognize that Latinx stories are still heavily underrepresented in Hollywood and at this year’s Oscars, but there’s one MAJOR issue: Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones has been cast as the Colombian drug lord and people are PISSED.
The whitewashing of a Latinx story and brownface donned by Zeta-Jones is a major offense, especially when rumors continue to circulate that she won the role over Jennifer Lopez, who decided to take matters into her own hands and is now also making a biopic of Blanco’s life with HBO, according to W magazine. After weeks of controversy over the Lifetime movie, Zeta-Jones is finally speaking out and defending her decision to play a Latina character in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. And, let me tell you, there is some serious B.S. going on in her response!
In the first part of her defense, she goes on a tirade about being a Welsh actress but how there are no roles for people that look like her because she doesn’t “happen to look like what you think someone from Wales would look like.” She blames her physicality and that she never gets to use her accent on screen, ending with “Have you ever heard me use my accent that I’m speaking with right now?”
Okay, so, apparently it’s okay for her to play a Latina character because there are no Welsh characters for her to play? That certainly hasn’t stopped her from playing other white characters throughout her career. The second part of her defense is that “this happens to be the third Hispanic I’ve played.”
Yes, that’s right: She defended playing Griselda Blanco by using the age-old defense of “but I’ve done it before”! (Not her actual words but, I mean, basically they are.) She goes on to remind us that she played the lead in Zorro.
“I screen-tested with six Hispanic women, and I got the role,” Zeta-Jones told Entertainment Weekly. “I don’t know what to say. And I was a complete unknown at this point; it wasn’t because I had a name or box-office value. Four of the actresses are my contemporaries to this day. I played a woman of Spanish descent in Traffic as well. I have to take [the roles] I believe I can embody. I can’t be the person to fight against a very big issue, and I won’t take on that role. There have been so many actors who have played ‘against type.’ That’s sort of what we do.”
So, basically, it’s okay for her to play a Latina character again because she believes she can embody the role and play “against type”. Well, here’s the thing: Playing against type means that you, an actress, play someone completely not like you. If you’re a mother, you play a woman who has chosen to never have kids. If you’re a woman who has never taken drugs, you play a drug lord. That’s fine… But “against type” does not mean “of a different race.” That’s called blackface. Or, in this case, brownface.
The last ridiculous part of her defense is what she says about being a true believer in diversity.
“I’m all for diversity, and diversity across the board,” Zeta-Jones said to Entertainment Weekly. “Not just color, race, sex — everything. I want to see more diversity behind the camera. This is a white man’s business, and now, hard to believe after all of these years, we’re finally trying to break that glass ceiling.”
Here’s the thing about believing in diversity, though: If you truly believe in diversity, then you believe that those who are different than you deserve to break that glass ceiling, too. Perhaps if Zeta-Jones truly believed in diversity, as she says, then she wouldn’t continue to step into Latina roles that should rightly go to actresses who are Latina.
We can say at the start of her career that she was young and didn’t know any better, but it’s 2018 and today we know that if you are taking things away from marginalized people, then you don’t really give a flying F about diversity. You’re just selfish.
And that’s where we stand today: Catherine Zeta-Jones is playing a Colombian drug lord and not even remotely willing to think about what this means for Latinx actresses who could have been better suited for the role. Instead, she’s saying that it’s all okay because she can’t find Welsh roles, because she’s played Hispanics before, and because she believes in diversity.
Well, it’s not okay to plead ignorance on damaging marginalized people and acting in a selfish way. Her excuses are just that — excuses. The same old excuses that Hollywood gives for not showing enough of us in the movies or on TV or at award shows. It’s redundant and ludicrous. Try again!