Janesville52.7°

When a film can be a bridge

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Esther Cepeda
March 15, 2012
— Everyone has a guilty pleasure and mine is Will Ferrell.

I have a deep love for the comedian from “Saturday Night Live” who brought us unforgettable spoofs of Janet Reno, Harry Caray, Saddam Hussein, Alex Trebek, and my personal favorite: Robert Goulet crooning a cappella hip-hop.


He’s made scores of movies, and I’ve seen them all. What can I say? The man’s goofy, child-like antics bring me pure joy. And now, even more so.


Ferrell is starring in a Spanish-language American comedy called “Casa de Mi Padre”—“House of My Father”—opening nationwide this week. As Armando Alvarez, Ferrell delivers all his lines in Spanish as he plays a simple ranch hand who falls for his brother’s girl and ends up battling an evil drug lord.


Whether the subtitled spectacle becomes a box-office sensation or not, it has the potential to make waves in that portion of the Hispanic community that takes itself waaaaay too seriously.

By my count, nearly every nondocumentary Hispanic TV show or film that has come out in the past year aimed at Latino and general audiences has been ripped to shreds by Latino critics who have branded the shows offensive, stereotypical or not authentic enough.


But never mind all that. Even if “Casa de Mi Padre” does not become, as the trailer calls it, “the biggest international motion picture of all time,” the most inspiring thing about this film coming to market is the mission of the movie’s production company, Santa Monica, Calif.-based Nala Films.


Darlene Caamano Loquet, the company’s president and chief operating officer, told The New York Times that even though she and co-founder Emilio Diez Barroso have Hispanic roots, their company doesn’t look for films aimed at a narrow Spanish-speaking audience. In fact, Nala’s stated mission is simply to focus on developing and producing commercial stories that “empower and uplift audiences.” “To us,” Caamano Loquet said, “the definition of Hispanic or Latino themes is not the same as the general entertainment mindset.” She added, “Our goal is to make mainstream movies that have people that sound and look like us, because we are the mainstream.”


When I read that, I literally kissed the paper the words were printed on. Too few high-profile Latinos are talking like that these days. In gatherings a decade ago, Hispanics chatted happily about proving that we could introduce parts of our culture and history into the “popular culture” even as we proudly claimed our place in the great American assimilation process.


Today, and ever since the heated illegal immigration debate blurred the distinction between legal or U.S.-born Hispanics and the immigrants who have settled here illegally, it feels as though a line has been drawn in the sand. For some in the more radical corners of the Latino community, you either pledge allegiance to the dignity of your family’s geographic history or you’re branded as a proponent of some nightmarish vision of a “colonialist/imperialist” America that will melt your individuality right out of the pot.


I’ve always seen Irish immigrants and their descendants as the perfect example of how Hispanics could become a proud, storied part of mainstream America. But I’m sad to say that a highly vocal—and hopefully tiny—portion of Latinos promote the idea of never giving up their Hispanic or Latino labels in favor of just being “American.” This sort of “pride” puts a barrier between today and a time when everyone identifies with the nation’s Hispanic roots on certain days in the same way that everyone is Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day.


Thankfully, Nala Films is putting its efforts into bringing audiences together instead of segmenting us into separate categories—as if great storytelling or hilarious pranks couldn’t be the perfect vehicles for transcending identity differences.


Diez Barroso, himself the great-grandson of a Mexican media mogul, told The Wall Street Journal that Ferrell would be a great star (note: an Irish-American actor not dependent on appealing to the “Irish community”) to win over both Spanish- and English-speaking audiences.


He explained that the movie trailer is exactly the same for both audiences because he believes that “Hispanics don’t like to feel they’re being marketed to differently than their English-speaking neighbors.”


I believe it, too.


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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