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When Hollywood Learned to Speak Different Languages

When Hollywood Learned to Speak Different Languages

Enrique Gonzalez serves as an expert movie critic and writes a weekly column for a local Hispanic news publication in Phoenix, AZ. In addition to his role as a General Manager at TMX Finance® Family of Companies, he has been a local radio and television personality, movie promoter, and most recently, a podcast host.

At the beginning of the industrial film era most productions did not have audio. In 1920, the silent cinema was a universal cinema, so the nationality of the actors did not matter nor their voices. Really, the quality Hollywood was seeking were faces that looked good in front of their cameras.

Production studios began looking for young Hispanics from Mexico and would make the aspiring actors fill their portfolios with photographs of artist poses. Due to the lack of experience from these aspiring actors, their salary was lower than that of the production and maintenance people on many occasions.

In a short time, technology reached Hollywood production studios. We began to enjoy movies with audio, immediately transforming the city of Los Angeles into a City of Glamour worldwide. However, an eagerness to captivate its glory internationally, Hollywood studios began remaking some films in different languages ​​with different actors. It is rumored that directors made changes to different shootings to adapt them to different markets, which made the writers make changes as well.

The public was disappointed to learn that the actors we saw in silent films had voices and accents that were not attractive or representative of their characters. Their accents were either very loud or shrill, or their voices were not feminine or masculine enough.

Many Hispanic actors did not speak English because there was no need- there was no audio and the cinema did not have subtitles at the time. Actors who mainly came from Mexico, Spain, Cuba, and Argentina had to raise their level of performance, using the law of the jungle to survive.

In 1929, the first Spanish-language production made in Hollywood was called Sombras habaneras (“Havana Shadows”) by Cuban director René Cardona, who also starred in the film. As expected, the cost and profit of making films in different languages ​​was not attractive to studios. In fact, an economic recession was approaching. Forced to make low-budget movies, producers used dark makeup on actors who weren’t Hispanic.

Soon after, the golden age entered and offered a new stage where new talents managed to stand out in the industry, like Anthony Quinn (“Zorba the Greek”), Ricardo Montalbán (“Latin Lovers”), Mario Moreno Cantiflas (“Around the World in 80 Days”) and Rita Moreno (“West Side Story”). Sometime later, between the 1950s towards the end of the 1980s, we saw Hollywood change stereotypes. Hispanic actors complained that to be part of this cinematographic universe they had to play the roles of butlers, gardeners, drivers, or country people. Alfonso Bedoya immortalized the expression, “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!” in the movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in his role as a bandit.

In 1997, a Mexican director entered Hollywood with Mimic, a horror film that sparked a lot of talk. Guillermo del Toro, who managed to captivate the public with his strange way of carrying dark cinematography, later won an Oscar with The Shape of Water. Behind him came another great director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won an Oscar for The Birdman and The Revenant.

Today, Hispanic actors have taken on more important roles in the Hollywood industry acting in different genres such as comedy, horror, action, drama, musicals, and more. And though the film industry has been affected by the pandemic, perhaps we can celebrate Hispanic heritage by enjoying one of these movies at home.

The TMX Finance® Family of Companies is proud to celebrate the achievements and contributions of our Hispanic and Latinx Team Members this Hispanic Heritage Month! To find more articles and movie reviews from Enrique, follow @CineXperto on all social media platforms. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the TMX Finance® Family of Companies.

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