Brow Beat

Jane the Virgin’s Jaime Camil on How Hollywood Shortchanges Latino Audiences

Modern Family shouldn’t be the only sitcom being nominated for awards year after year, he says.

Jaime Camil in a scene from Jane the Virgin.
Jaime Camil in Jane the Virgin.
The CW Network

The flamboyant, hilarious Jaime Camil first came to prominence starring in telenovelas like La Fea Mas Bella (Mexico’s version of Colombia’s Ugly Betty), but American audiences probably know him best as Rogelio de la Vega on Jane the Virgin, Jane’s (Gina Rodriguez) vain but lovable father. (That character is also a telenovela star in his own right.) On the latest episode of Represent, the charismatic actor talks to Aisha Harris about becoming a star in America, the politics of awards shows, and how Hollywood continues to ignore Latino audiences. Here is a transcribed and edited excerpt from the conversation, which took place in December. You can listen to the full interview in the audio player below.

Aisha Harris: One of the things that struck me from an interview you did a couple of years ago was that you mentioned the fact that Univision has millions more viewers than most of the major American networks combined, whether it’s ABC, CBS. Yet, somehow, Univision and its influence—and even just the Latino community in general—tends to be ignored in the mainstream. I even look at the fact that it took this long for Disney/Pixar to make a film in which the characters were Latino and the majority of the cast is voiced by Latino actors. It does seem to me like there is this sort of divide between Latin culture and American culture even though there are so many [Latinos living] here in the States. Apparently, the projections are that, by 2020, the majority of children will be Latino children.

Jaime Camil: Correct.

What do you think it will take for Latin culture to make its way into the mainstream on-screen?

Wow. Well, are you ready? Do we have three days to talk about this? No.

Oh, we have forever.

OK, cool. I think this “minority,” quote-unquote, is the economic engine of this country, basically. It’s ridiculous right now … Gina Rodriguez and everybody at the show, we were outraged about the fact that SAG-AFTRA and other award shows didn’t nominate one single Latino in their shows. It is not that we want to get an award for free, like, Oh, the poor Latinos, throw them a little bone. Throw them a little award just for them not to feel ignored. No, no, no. Fuck you. It’s not about that.

Really? Do you think Gina Rodriguez doesn’t deserve a nomination? I mean, she won the Golden Globe, for the love of God. Do you think she should not be nominated for a SAG-AFTRA award or for a Critics’ Choice or whatever? It’s ridiculous … I mean, Modern Family, again, for the 12th year, same nominations? Really? Can’t we move on? Can we look to the other amazing shows that are being created, like One Day at a Time with Justina Machado?

Yes.

—It’s ridiculous. It is absurd. This … I am progressive. I’m from the left. I’m probably, if I would have to choose a political party, I will be a Democrat definitely, but the only thing I tend to agree with, on the right—if there’s one thing you can agree with people that live in an alternative reality—is that whenever Hollywood, we’re so righteous about it, so like, Oh, my God, yeah, because inclusiveness and whatever, and diversity, and love everybody, love the humankind. Then you turn around and like, “Excuse me, Oscars, how many African American women have you awarded in the past 50 years? Can you count them with the fingers of one hand, and you probably have fingers left?” It’s like, I mean, come on. Yes, we talk the talk, but we don’t walk the walk.

It’s really frustrating, because it’s not the—again, we don’t want awards for free. … And I can’t complain as a Mexican, because we have dominated the Academy Awards of the past two or three years. Best Director, Best Film, Best Cinematographer. It’s like, we’ve done well.
We’ve done well, but I mean—

But also, those are just Mexican male directors—

You’re right.

… Alfonso Cuarón.

Emmanuel Lubezki, Alejandro González Iñárritu. Well, you have Patricia Riggen! Patricia Riggen is an amazing director. She’s a very gifted director—but again, again, you should be awarded if you do a good job, not because your demographic, or if you’re a minority. I don’t agree with that also. You have to be awarded if you deserve it, but I truly believe that there are many shows out there and many performers out there, beyond talented performers, that deserve a nomination and deserve to win.

I was reading for a movie, and the character—my mother is Brazilian, my father is Mexican, so I’m half-Brazilian, half-Mexican. And I was reading for this movie where it was going to be shot either in Brazil or in Ecuador or Dominican Republic or something. And I ask the head of this studio, the head of the international department of a major studio in Hollywood, I ask this person, “Is the movie going to be shot in Ecuador or Brazil?”

It was a legitimate question because if it was in Brazil, I could speak the language, and I can throw some Portuguese at it, and you know Brazil is a humongous country, and I have a lot of fans there that will … Whatever. The official answer from the head of the international department was, “Who cares,” or, “What’s the difference?” I’m like, “What do you mean, ‘What’s the difference’? Brazil is the only country that doesn’t speak Spanish. It speaks Portuguese. It’s so alienated, they have their own Grammys, their own award shows.” I mean, if the head of the international department doesn’t know the difference between Brazil and the other Latin American countries, somebody in HR really fucked up at putting this person there. It’s like, no, you shouldn’t be here. Right?

Mm-hmm.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of ignorance, and like you said, our finales, our show finales, sometimes beat CBS, Fox, ABC, NBC combined when it comes to ratings on our novelas’ finales.
Telemundo is doing an amazing job with their narco culture novelas—which, I’m on the fence on that, because you shouldn’t glorify the narco culture. Right? But it’s like doing Goodfellas and saying, Oh, you shouldn’t glorify the gangsters. It’s a movie. It’s a make-believe. Right?

Yeah.

But it’s doing amazing and good ratings and everything. So I also had a conversation with a very lovely guy from Lionsgate, and I’m like, “Dude, you shouldn’t [have to] watch Univision or Telemundo or speak the language to know who to cast in your next project if you want to hit or tap into the Latino market. It’s very easy. You just ask your people to give you the statistics of the last shows that aired on Univision or Telemundo and the ratings they have. You will see that they beat every single mainstream network. Right? Then out of these seven shows or whatever, you will have 15 or 20 actors that already are household names within the Latino community, with the 50 million Latinos living in this country, so just you see who of them know how to act and which of them don’t act like this. Then those guys, you ask if they speak English or not.”

Let’s say you have eight. Well, if you want to tap [it] immediately and see box-office hits and ratings be impacted by this, hire the Latinos that are already loved by these 50 million Latinos living in this country.” Their problem is that major studios or networks, they have their West Coast offices, they’re in L.A., and their East Coast offices, they’re in New York, and in New York, you have a big density of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans. We’re all brothers and sisters, but the reality is that 85 percent of our minorities are from Mexico, and that’s just a reality. Right? When you’re in the East Coast and you have a big density of Dominicans or Puerto Ricans, when you call for a Latino audition, most, probably, you’re going to get a Dominican or a Puerto Rican or somebody from the Caribbean, because they live there in New York.

Then when the movie opens, they might go like, “I thought this person was going to draw more tickets,” and no, in fact, they did. The whole 2 percent of the minority that represents that country went to the movies, and they watched the movies. Now, this is a very sensitive subject, because I’m not saying Mexicans or Puerto Ricans or Dominicans are better than the other ones. Also, the other problem we have with the Latin American communities is that we don’t come together as one, and this doesn’t happen with the African American community. They really support each other immensely, and unfortunately, the Latin American community doesn’t support each other. They draw lines between Colombians, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, or Ecuadorians, Mexicans, and that’s wrong. We should be united more.

I talked about a lot of things, but I probably didn’t make one single point. Right?

No, you made a lot of points, and they all answered—

Oh, my dear God.

They all answered my question to some extent. As a black person, I will say that to some extent, it’s funny because I’ve interviewed a few people who are from different communities, whether they are from the Latino community or from the Asian community, and one thing they often say is that, “We don’t come together enough like the African American community does.”

Do you think your community comes together, or we are under that perception and it’s not true?

I think that we definitely do come together to some extent, but it’s not all roses.

Got it.

If you recall earlier this year when Get Out came out, Samuel L. Jackson came out and said [something along the lines of] “Well, why did they hire a black British person to play the lead role? He couldn’t possibly connect with this character in the way that a person born in America could do.”

I don’t agree with that, because you’re an actor …

Yeah, but I mean, that’s just an example of how there is. … It’s not always perfect. I can also understand the Latino community, I think, has perhaps maybe many more differing experiences than the black community might have. If you lived in the United States, you might have more similar experiences regardless of whether you come from the Caribbean or from Africa if you’re born here. I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. I just, I think we all—every group has its infighting or its tensions. But I can totally understand also, your point about where these castings are happening. I think to Americans, especially Americans who are not Latino, the people making these decisions think we can’t tell the difference. It’s like, Oh, if a Mexican actor is playing a Venezuelan character, no one’s going to know the difference.

No, totally … and sorry to interrupt, but also the other point that I was trying to make, I was trying to make a point that if you want to hire somebody that is very well known, but at the same time, again, it opens a lot of debate, because like yeah, OK, you’re well-known, but you should get the job because of your talent regardless of you’re famous or not famous, or you have a following or not a following, or if you’re an actor that just, you’re coming from nothing. It’s a very debatable thing, and obviously it opens up a very interesting and very lengthy conversation about this. Right? It’s not like black or white.

Right. Do you see the tide changing? Because as you said earlier, you went about 10 years trying to audition in the United States and finally wound up with three different roles to choose from. But it seems like 10 years ago there wasn’t as much of a desire as there is now for Latino stories.

I agree, I mean, and also there was a lot of ignorance, and there still is a lot of ignorance [about] what we represent, but like you were saying, the head of studios or whatever, they don’t understand the difference. To them, if you look like their gardener, you can play Latinos. Simple as that. It’s very easy. It’s simple as that, and it’s really, really sad. It’s like me being a Mexican and wanting to do a movie, right? And I’m like, “OK, let’s do an American movie with an American actor. I will like to hire either Johnny Depp or Carrot Top.” They will all be like, “What? Excuse me?” You’re like, “Well, yeah, I mean, they’re both Americans, right, and they both do films. What’s the difference?” I mean, right?

Yeah.

“They both have American passports, and they both do films. What’s the difference?” Like, “Dude, really?” Yeah, there should be definitely more education when it comes to our culture, how we look like, how tall we are, how our complexion is, because we have all sizes and shapes.

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