On April 19th, on NPR’s website, an article described the long career of actress Lupe Ontiveros. Apparently, she has played a maid at least 150 times.
Additionally, she finds that she’s not just asked to play maids; she’s asked to do her best to reinforce Latina stereotypes. She describes to her interviewer a common occurrence in auditions she attends:
“‘You want an accent?’ And they’d say, ‘Yes, we prefer for you to have an accent.’ And the thicker and more waddly it is, the more they like it. This is what I’m against, really, truly,” she says.
Ontiveros was so sick of playing stereotyped Latina parts that when she received a script for Miguel Arteta’s Chuck and Buck, and saw that her role would be a woman named Beverly, she immediately accepted the part. “I’ll do it because her name is Beverly, it wasn’t Maria Guadalupe Conchita Esperanza — this Latino stereotype,” she recalls telling Arteta.
Ontiveros has accepted maid parts throughout her entire life, and continues to do so in order to find work. However, she says, “I long to play a judge. I long to play a lesbian woman. I long to play a councilman, someone with some chutzpah.” She says at the end of the article that she thinks other Latina actresses, such as Jennifer Lopez and America Ferrera, have more options; they aren’t confined to the stereotyped accented immigrant maids.
What truly upsets me while reading this article is that Ontiveros, who has proven herself as an actress in films such as El Notre, is forced to conform to Latina stereotypes in order to find work. I do think it’s pathetic, ignorant, racist, and sexist that so many film and television show execs are actively trying to reinforce racial stereotypes, but I wish that it would be easier for actors like Ontiveros to just walk away. However, if she needs the work, what is she supposed to do? She is caught in a classic double-bind, where she can take the money offered, so long as she helps reinforce stereotypes that she herself is against.
Apparently, Ontiveros will be appearing on the TV show Reaper soon, as a grandmother without an accent. I watch Reaper, and so I’m very excited to look for her in upcoming episodes. I’m also hoping that one of my favorite show has given her the opportunity to play a non- or less-stereotypical role. If she is indeed on Reaper, I will update you all in the comments.