LATINA VIEW: Still Waiting for Our Halle Berry Moment

When I was a little girl, the Oscars were one of the few shows my parents allowed me to stay up past my bedtime to watch. And, oh, did I watch! I loved everything about the Academy Awards—the stars, the dresses, the movies—and it’s a love affair that has continued right up until today.

So you can bet I was glued to my television set nine years ago, when Halle Berry made history, crossing the color barrier to become the first African American ever to win Best Actress, for her groundbreaking performance in Monster’s Ball. As she delivered her tearful speech, thanking all the black actresses who had paved the way for her, I became teary, too, thinking of all the remarkable Latinas—from Dolores del Rio and Katy Jurado, right on up through Rita Moreno and Salma Hayek—who had made me believe in my own dreams. And I began dreaming for our own Oscar night moment, when, finally, a Latina would do what Halle Berry did and become the first to win Best Actress.

Looks like I’m going to have to keep waiting. For during the announcement of this morning’s Oscar nominations, not a single Latina earned an acting nod. Granted, I wasn’t expecting anything different. There were hardly any Latino leading performances in Hollywood-made films this year—and not a single one in any of the year’s nominees for Best Picture, even though that category was expanded last year to include not 5 but 10 movies.

Don’t get me wrong: I am thrilled that Javier Bardem will represent in the Best Actor category, for his moving performance in Mexico’s Biutiful. And, yes, Latinas have won in the Best Supporting Actress category before, most recently in 2008, when Penelope Cruz was honored for Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

But looking at this year’s top movies, I can’t help but be disappointed that Latinas continue to be shut out of challenging, award-winning lead roles . . . because what that really means is that the stories of us—of our grandmothers and mothers, sisters and daughters—continue to be ignored.

I mean, look at the list: Black Swan is about the world of ballet—a world that is filled with Latina principal dancers, like Paloma Herrera and Xiomara Reyes. So why couldn’t Zoe Saldana—who, like Natalie Portman, has a ballet background—have been cast as that film’s tortured star?

Similarly, there are plenty of strong, sexy Latinas—starting with Paz de la Huerta and Michelle Rodriguez—who would have been great as one of the lesbian moms in The Kids are All Right. And the much-praised indie flick, Winter’s Bone, is about a young Latina fighting to hold her family together, against all odds. Some of the brightest young talent in Hollywood today—from Camilla Belle and Alexa Vega to Selena Gomez and Francia Raisa—is Latina, so where is our take on this plotline? 

The answer, of course, is that we not only need to get more of our actresses considered for roles that aren’t necessarily specific to being Latina, but also that we need to start fighting to get more of our stories made. Which is why I am thrilled that, as part of our 15th anniversary coverage in Latina magazine, we are focusing on the next generation of trailblazers—including, in the upcoming March issue, two young Latinas who won a prestigious screenwriting competition.

Their aim, as they told Latina, is to make sure the lives of girls like them become as routine a part of Hollywood pitch meetings as that of underdog boxers, or superheroes battling crime, or old gunslingers taking on one last job. Then and only then will our many talented actresses finally be able to reach the highest levels of their profession, perhaps even hearing their name called out on Oscar night.

It is a day I am still dreaming about. And a night that I look forward to, once again, being glued to my television set.