the Hollywood tradition of weeding out non-American actors from ‘white’ roles may be about to change

After many delays, on September 28 it will finally premiere on Netflix Blondethe biopic by Marilyn Monroe based on the book of the same title written by Joyce Carol Oates and in which Ana de Armas plays the American film legend alongside Bobby Cannavale, who plays Joe DiMaggio; Adrien Brody, who plays Arthur Miller, and Julianne Nicholson, who will be Gladys Pearl Baker, the star’s mother.

On July 28, the official trailer for the film was released, which recreates some of the iconic moments in the life of the actress and which has been very well received by a large part of the public and the media. However, only a few hours after its publication, some criticism began to be heard on social networks referring to a fact that probably most of us Spanish speakers had gone unnoticed: the supposed Cuban accent that Ana de Armas cannot avoid slipping into time to play Marilyn. Many viewers found it unacceptable that one of America’s quintessential icons is portrayed by a woman with a certain foreign cast and therefore doesn’t sound like the real Monroe.

Ana de Armas Marilyn Monroe

Adrien Brody, who plays Arthur Miller, in an image from the film with Ana de Armas. Photo: Netflix

Presumably, these negative comments will not have done De Armas any good, especially if we remember the statements he made to the British newspaper The Times, stating that he had spent no less than nine months polishing his accent for the role in sessions that literally left him “brain fried” and which he described as “monumental torture”. After the attacks received in networks by the actress, Nick Woodhouse, president and director of marketing of Authentic Brands Group, the agency that manages the Monroe legacy and that is not behind this production (in fact, it has not even authorized it), declared to TMZ that “Ana has been able to capture in a remarkable way the essence of Marilyn’s voice, which was known for its ragged breath”.

But perhaps the most important support that Ana de Armas has received has come from Brad Pitt, who on August 2 declared to the program Entertainment Tonight that the actress “is phenomenal in the role. Marilyn’s is a complicated outfit to wear. It took 10 years to shoot that film and it wasn’t until they found Ana that they were able to get the project off the ground.” The mere existence of the controversy makes it clear that there continues to be a problem in the Californian film industry with the incorporation of non-American actors in roles without a very specific ethnic or racial component or, rather, of white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant characters. Pitt’s defense, however, also hints at some hope that things might be starting to change.

A long-standing problem

Obviously the Cuban actress is not the only one who has suffered this type of criticism. Throughout history, there have been numerous cases of actors and actresses who saw their careers limited in terms of roles or salaries due to their accent, but also their physical appearance or their ethnic origin. We could make, for example, a huge list of Italian-American actors who have dedicated their careers exclusively to interpreting roles related to the mafia, Latinos who always play drug dealers, Germans who are paid to be Nazis or Russians who, until the arrival of the Perestroika only played evil Soviets.

But it is not necessary to go that far; three of our most international actors, all with awards and nominations at the Oscars, have faced this type of problem although, luckily for them and not without effort, they have been able to build a career despite everything. The oldest, Antonio Banderas, has referred to this issue on more than one occasion. In 2014, for example, he could not have been more explicit in a statement to the RTVE website: “The roles that they offer me in the United States are jack, horse and king. In Hollywood I’ve always been limited by my accent and my ethnicity.”

Penélope Cruz also suffered, especially at the beginning of her career, a multitude of criticisms in the United States for her accent. The actress from Madrid began to learn English late and, as she acknowledged in an interview during the promotion of Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona, hiding his accent in Hollywood was a “torture” for him. Her husband, Javier Bardem, has also recently been involved in a controversy around accents, although a little differently. The actor has come under fire for accepting the role of 1950s Cuban TV star Desi Arnaz in Being the Ricardos. In an interview in The Hollywood Reporter In which he spent considerable time defending himself against these accusations, posing questions such as “Should we let only Danish actors play the role of Hamlet?”, Bardem finally settled the issue by declaring: “I recognize that there are many underrepresented voices and stories that they need to be told and we should all do it, better collectively, to give greater access and opportunities to Latin American stories and writers.”

Ana de Armas Marilyn Monroe

Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem have also talked about the problems they have had with their accent in Hollywood. Photo: Getty Images

It is not easy to get out of the stereotype, but it is not impossible either. Currently, there are some cases of actors and actresses who have managed to free themselves from the ‘exotic’ corset, playing neutral roles and even making the public forget their origins. To cite just one case, Oscar Isaac, born in Guatemala, usually gives life to characters that do not refer to his genes. It is curious to remember, however, that exactly the opposite happens with American actors than with foreigners. Those who have dedicated their careers to imitating foreign accents have earned the label of great acting masters. Perhaps the best known case is that of Meryl Streep, whom we have seen imitate the Danish accent in Memories of Africathe one from the Bronx in The doubtthe Italian in The bridges of Madison, the British in several films and also others such as the Irish, the Polish or the Australian. But does it really do it right? Or is it simply reproducing another stereotype, that of the accent that an American assumes a Dane speaking English has? Nobody often asks speakers of other languages ​​what they think of imitations of their accents by American actors. They may not care too much, but this kind of chauvinism risks producing overacted and ridiculous results. A paradigmatic example of this is the catastrophic and quirky Chilean accent that Giancarlo Esposito (on the other hand a magnificent actor), displays in his role as Gustavo Fring in the successful series breaking bad Y Better Call Saul.

It’s not exclusive to Hollywood

To be fair, it is necessary to point out that in our country professional discrimination and pigeonholing in the world of cinema due to accent or race have been the norm until very recently (if they still are not). With few honorable exceptions, it was difficult to find an actor or actress with an Andalusian accent, for example, who did not play a humorous and lower-class role. That’s not to mention actors of other races or sexual options. In the world of television or radio journalism, accents were also banished from national networks for decades, forcing many professionals to take specific courses to learn how to erase all traces of their regional identity to increase their chances of prospering in their work. .

As society advances in the recognition of the rights and differences of people, it seems that, despite all the difficulties, there is a slight tendency for these differences to disappear. Returning to the case of Ana de Armas, perhaps in a few years we will have to thank the actress for the role she is playing as the spearhead of this change in Hollywood. Brad Pitt’s defense reveals that something could be changing in the industry. Although on a topic like this it is always too early to launch the bells on the fly.

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