It’s 2019 and for starters, J.Lo is the only Latinx actress over 45 to star in a film in the last 12 years. Second, only 3 percent of movies featured Latinx actors in lead roles from 2007 through 2018 in the 100 top-grossing films. There’s progress to be made but there’s also more awareness in Hollywood which means production companies would presumably make more of an effort to cast accordingly and inclusively. However, the casting in Netflix’s The Laundromat proves that assumption false.
Halfway through the film, Streep “transforms into her second character: an office worker in a Panamanian law firm, who has bronzed skin, a fake nose, hip padding, a black wig and an exaggerated ‘Latin’ accent, according to some early viewers,” reports TooFab.
Cultural appropriation has always run rampant in Hollywood — Marlon Brando portrayed Emiliano Zapata, Madonna played Evita — but in an era of heightened consciousness, it is missteps like this that are still both oppressive and surprising.
Yikes… Just out of a screening of #TheLaundromat and between Gary Oldman's German accent and Meryl Streep's 'blackface' this ain't gonna age well!
— Ben from FilmBusters @ LFF (@filmbustersben) September 11, 2019
The new Netflix film drops September 27 but sparkled controversy following screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and Venice International Film Festival this past week.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Oceans franchise), the film focuses on the discovery of the Panama Papers and a network of global corruption in 2015. In the first part of the film, Streep plays Ellen, a white American widow who begins investigating the finances of her deceased husband after his shady insurance company screwed her out of a settlement from the boat accident that killed him. Her storyline apparently doesn’t get much more coverage later in the film but that’s when Streep pops up as the unnamed Latina office worker in a Panamanian law firm.
“This is a bizarre and rather galling unforced error, especially in an era of heightened consciousness about representation and appropriation,” Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson wrote, criticizing the decision.
THE LAUNDROMAT: Like The Informant mixed with The Big Short but not as good as either of them. Great cast but in a story that drags and doesn't have much to say. Incredibly weird decision to have Meryl Streep play a 2nd character who is latina and nearly a caricature #TIFF19
— Rafael Motamayor still @ TIFF (@RafaelMotamayor) September 9, 2019
There’s no denying Streep is a legend in Hollywood and one of the most talented actresses ever but this was a misstep not just on her part but Soderbergh’s as well for not casting a Latina. Why take an actress that’s already in the film and give her bronzer and prosthetics? It’s hard to imagine they didn’t have the budget to hire another woman of color for the role.
The film does have some Latinx representation with Antonio Banderas playing one-half of the lawyers Mossack Fonseca who ran the Panamanian law firm that was at the center of the scandal and Cristela Alonzo plays Agent Kilmer.
The Panama Papers is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation published in 2016 that revealed how 140 politicians, as well as celebrities and drug dealers, hid their wealth (legally and illegally) and shady business deals through companies and tax havens that were difficult to trace. The investigation was based on 11.4 million documents from Mossack Fonseca.
With Streep taking on a Latina role it seems they’ve sparked their own controversy and neither Netflix or Streep has yet to comment. With missed opportunities like this to give to the many Latina actresses out there, it only reinforces how there is still so much work to be done to elevate Latinx representation in Hollywood.