Tony Rodriguez: I feel like part of the reason we’re talking here is I recently got on the Simpson.
Liz Alarcón: Yes,
Tony Rodriguez: um, I’m just going to say that, I think which, um,
Liz Alarcón: This is actor, writer, podcaster, and all around funny guy… Tony Rodriguez. Tony’s worked his way from a comedy nerd growing up in a Cuban immigrant household in Miami, to performing at improv shows in New York to siting across from George Lopez as he plays a Mexican version of Donald Trump in a Funny or Die skit. Tony’s latest achievment is definitely part of why we wanted to talk to him about Latinos in Hollywood. He recently joined the cast of the iconic television show, The Simpsons.
Tony Rodriguez: I was just down in Miami a few days ago with my nephews. My sister-in-law was like, let’s put on The Simpsons and they’re like, oh my God, tio Tony is a cartoon. And I felt like, like a little kid with them watching it. It’s still, I’m still over the moon about it.
Liz Alarcón: Tony voices Julio, a gay Cuban character who, until Tony took the reigns, was voiced by the Anglo straight actor, Hank Azaria.
Tony Rodriguez: A dear friend of mine, a white gay – there are good people there are good white people. Um, he, he, uh, host a podcast called Gayest Episode Ever. He was trying to look at the gay jokes of the Simpsons and every time we’d come up, he’d come across a Julio. We talk about it. Like I could do this. It’s me. It’s like a gay Cuban. He’s me. He’s truly is me.
Liz Alarcón: So Tony decided to take the matter into his own hands.
Tony Rodriguez: We decided I would make a video of myself asking the Simpsons to cast me as this gay Cuban character. And I did the voice,
What I did not know was a dear old friend of mine from New York become a writer. And her first episode was, had Julio, this character in it. when the show runner went to the writer’s room and said, had anyone ever heard of Tony Rodriguez? She’s like, oh my God. I got an audition. put out the video on a Monday and I was recording it at Fox weak.
Liz Alarcón: What a whirlwind, Tony, what a whirlwind
For Tony, playing Julio was his chance to finally get the media representation he didn’t really have growing up.
Tony Rodriguez: He’s an out and proud gay Cuban man in Springfield, and he’s sassy and salty I love him and I feel like he’s he’s me and I, I respect Hank Azaria so much, he’s a truly brilliant performer, a brilliant actor. But as these like, conversations about representation or opening up these doors, I’m like, oh, let me in. I truly nothing in my life until now I was like, had I ever felt more this part is mine.
Liz Alarcón: Wow.
Tony Rodriguez: Like I felt this is mine. No one else can do this better.
Liz Alarcón: When he began his career in entertainment, Tony then searched for idols who more closely resembled who he saw in the mirror.
Tony Rodriguez: I didn’t really have any, do John Leguizamo since forever. I feel has been like someone I would look up to, was the only one that was doing like comedy that I saw and, being Latino.
Liz Alarcón: Oh and
Tony Rodriguez: Ricky Ricardo. I was like, oh, like probably my dad right?
Liz Alarcón: Totally. And for so many of us, that was the first representation we saw. I remember that show being one of my favorites when I was five or six years old, when I didn’t even the concept of representation and seeing myself or people like me was not even in my consciousness. And I gravitated towards, towards that.
Tony Rodriguez: But it still mattered, right? Like it’s still mattered, it mattered that you were seeing, you know, something that resonated with your identity. It’s more powerful than I think I gave it credit for years ago.
Liz Alarcón: Luckily the media landscape looks a little different now than it did when the only Latino on our screens was Ricky Ricardo….
Tony Rodriguez: Let’s say, like Vida um,
Liz Alarcón: And Gentefied.
Tony Rodriguez: And One Day at a Time.
Liz Alarcón: Tony actually HAD a role on the Netflix show Gentefied, one of the shows making space for Latino creators and stories on TV. When the show came out in early 2020, it became a hit for the streaming service. It was renewed for a second season and nominated for a Peabody Award. We can owe a lot of its success to Latino audiences, who were finally seeing themselves on their TV screens. And Tony saw first-hand how important this was to the Gentefied creators.
Tony Rodriguez: I could see how much they wanted to put their own experiences and the experiences of the other writers on the screen. You know, Netflix is I’m going to, I’m putting this in quotes like I’m like taking a gamble on, let’s say the POC show, the Latino show.
Liz Alarcón: Right.
Tony Rodriguez: It’s definitely for, I imagine the network executives a category, but also the show is excellent in its own right. I feel like it transcends anyone can, that’s the best thing. When you, when you, doing rep let’s say quote representative show, but it becomes
Liz Alarcón: Right.
Although we’re seeing these strides being made with Latino stories on the screen, there’s still a lot of work to be done. We make up 18% of the U.S. population and only about 5% of television and movie roles. And *accurate* Latino representation in TV and film is not where it needs to be. This conversation really came to the forefront earlier this summer during the release of the film adaptation of the musical In The Heights. Here at Pulso we critiqued the film’s lack of dark-skinned AfroLatinos in what was supposed to be a representation of a largely Afro-Dominican neighborhood. We had these conversations and criticisms both publicly and privately. Yet, while watching the film…
I cried in the theater. Not expecting that I was going to write and there I was tearing up when grandma came out and it matters. it matters so much
Tony Rodriguez: Oh my god, Paciencia y Fe.
Liz Alarcón: Yeah.
Tony Rodriguez: I was crying too.
Liz Alarcón: So essentially, it’s complicated.
Tony Rodriguez: Were such a diverse, hugely different group of people. And when we’re trying to navigate the waters in American mainstream media, it’s so easy to like lump us in to one category when it’s, and it’s hard. It’s, it’s, it’s both thrilling and dispiriting when you only get like one movie a year. Or every five years, right? And Lin Manuel has to shoulder all of our hopes.
Liz Alarcón: Right, because we should be telling more of our stories and we shouldn’t have this scarcity mentality that we just get this one shot, right. That it should be many of us from all of the more than 20 countries we represent telling our stories in front of and behind the camera.
And we should touch on what’s usually going on behind the camera.
Diana Martinez: No one’s asking, um, white directors that they have to represent, um, all of whiteness or all the different lived experiences of white people.
Liz Alarcón: That’s Doctor Diana Martinez, the artistic director of Film Streams, an arthouse theater in Omaha, Nebraska.
Diana Martinez: I basically choose every single movie that we play on our screens, that’s my job.
Liz Alarcón: She’s also the creator and host of a podcast called Hollywood in Color about the history of people of color in the entertainment industry. She has a PhD in film and media studies from the University of Oregon. And, like many of us, Dr Martinez has some thoughts on In The Heights.
Diana Martinez: So like In the Heights has a disproportionate burden on it to be represented than other works of its kind do. Um, and that I think is unfair, and I don’t know how you get away from placing that burden on creators. And part of that burden comes from the fact that there’s so few things made by Latinos, right? So, In the Heights has to be representative because who knows what we’re going to get another film like that. Um, but executives know, you know, studios know they have the money. Unless those people at the very top are changing or becoming more diverse themselves or looking towards creating actual diversity. Um, I honestly don’t even think it really matters if there’s good stories out there because a lot of people have good stories, but they don’t have money to make it.
Liz Alarcón: And coming from the world of film studies Diana’s seen first-hand how starved we are for representation.
Diana Martinez: As I was teaching. I had students come up to me and tell me that they took my class because of my last name. I was in Eugene, Oregon, which is, you know, primarily white and these were Latino students who just saw Martinez and was like, oh my God, like another person of color, like, let me. Take this class and it was like this duty that I felt like, okay, like, if this is what the kids are expecting, like this is what I need to give them.
Liz Alarcón: Diana’s also thinking about the people who don’t have access to the world of film academia. She’s focused on bringing more people of Color into conversations about film through her podcast about lesser-known Hollywood history as well as through the movies she choses to play at Film Streams.
Diana Martinez: What I try to do is try to make all this stuff, all this history accessible to people and for me, that means like a commitment to, um, making sure that more people in a very segregated city, um, are seeing things made by people who don’t really look like them.
Liz Alarcón: And making this world accessible to us all also means validating what many of us already love about film and TV.
Diana Martinez: Mainstream cinema has always been really important to me because that’s what I grew up watching. That’s what a lot of Latinos grow up watching. So for me to like, not have, um, like fast and the furious on a syllabus. Yes.
Liz Alarcón: F nine is where it’s at.
Diana Martinez: Yeah. Like it is. Like to me that would just be disingenuous , because that is by and large what people are watching. So I’m really interested in, um, you know, what those movies have to say about America.
Liz Alarcón: Dr. Martinez is not alone in feeling a responsibility to represent and amplify Latinx voices in cinema. Despite being a diverse and complex community, Latinos are often typecast into one-dimensional roles in Hollywood. The topic, and burden, of representation can be tricky for those of us that are simply happy to see people like us on the big screen.
Diana Martinez: I have like really complicated feelings towards, towards representation sometimes. Um, because it’s definitely something that I think we should be fighting for, but I think, um, in the Latino media landscape, like it’s still difficult to really like criticize or critique, um, things that are supposedly like uplifting the community.
Liz Alarcón: We hope that fear goes away, and that the people on the top fight for more Latino stories, so that all of us have the chance to feel seen. There’s so much opportunity out there for stories about our experiences, and it’s good that at least we’re starting to demand more accurate portrayals of our lives. In the meantime, we have these two Latinos who are trying to bring more of us into the conversation. It can’t all be the perfect representation, but as Tony says…
Tony Rodriguez: I own this at the very least, I own this thing, this process, this creative thing, I just made it. is mine, regardless of, if it like it’s quote, lands, sticks the landing, this is mine.