June 2, 2010

The Great Mexican-American Hope

Here's an NYT article about movie director Chris Weitz that vaguely refers to one of the oddities of the modern movie industry: although Los Angeles is about half-Hispanic, and although Latinos are the most loyal fans of Hollywood blockbusters, Mexican-Americans are extraordinarily under-represented in Hollywood. They are so missing in action in the modern film business that this article plays up the authentic Mexican-American roots of the Trinity College of Cambridge University-educated son of John Weitz
Another Los Angeles in ‘Gardener’
By MICHAEL CIEPLY

LOS ANGELES — Quiet on the set was no small order last week, as Chris Weitz, probably best known as the director of “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” worked a grittier side of the street on this city’s largely Hispanic East Side.

So it goes with “The Gardener,” a small film that has the tall, very dark-eyed Mr. Weitz — who talked of leaving the movie business after an unhappy experience with New Line Cinema’s high-budget flop “The Golden Compass” — looking downright chipper these days. ...

More remarkably, Mr. Weitz has turned his tiny movie, about a gardener and his son on a hunt for their stolen truck, into an exploration of Los Angeles places, both cultural and geographic, that have largely been ignored, even when production was at full throttle here. ...

Mr. Weitz went so far as to adjust the language in the script — the story was written by Roger L. Simon, with revisions by Eric Eason — to match the slang of not just the city, but of individual streets.

“The Gardener” is being made for a bit less than the cost of “American Pie.” In 1998 Mr. Weitz and his brother, Paul, shot that film — a teen comedy that went on to make $102 million at the domestic box office for Universal Pictures — on a budget reported to be about $11 million.

But “The Gardener” carries more risk in that its cast is virtually all Hispanic, with Demián Bichir, who played Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” in the starring role. ...

Asked why he had chosen to make “The Gardener” at a time when the success of “New Moon” gave him choices, Mr. Weitz said it “was a chance to reconnect” with some family heritage. His grandmother, Lupita Tovar, from Oaxaca, Mexico, was a star who sometimes made films shot simultaneously in English and Spanish. She married Mr. Weitz’s grandfather, the agent Paul Kohner.

“This was a chance to get in touch with the language,” said Mr. Weitz, who figured that 30 percent of the dialogue in “The Gardener” would need English subtitles.

He added, “I’m one of the few people in my family who doesn’t speak Spanish.”

The joke that's not mentioned in the article is the Weitz Brothers' famous father, John Weitz. He was a Nabokovian Continental exile -- fashion designer, race car driver, spy, yachtsman, novelist, and historian -- who made Humbert Humbert and Charles Kinbote seem like that bandito who don't need no steeenking badges in The Treasure of Sierra Madre

John Weitz's father won the Iron Cross as an officer in the Third Prussian Guards during the Great War. John grew up in Berlin, St. Moritz, Lake Como, and the Riviera before his parents finally realized the Nazis had it in even for ultra-assimilated Teutonic Jews like themselves, and went into New York exile in the late 1930s. 

From John Weitz's 2002 obituary in The Independent by Adrian Dannatt:
John Weitz was extremely good on socks. He designed some of the best men's socks in 20th-century America, he knew exactly which socks could be worn when and where, he understood the social and economic history of the sock, he himself wore extremely beautiful socks with total panache.

For those interested in style Weitz was an exemplar of modern dandysim, a scandalously well-dressed man who had an innate sense for the slightest detail of grooming, a rightful regular on every "Best Dressed" list. For those of us for whom Robert de Montesquiou or "Beau" Brummel are figures of respect that would be more than sufficient, but for the more solemn world at large Weitz was also a vastly successful businessman, a champion car racer and best-selling writer, a household name.

I wore a lot of his socks. I also read the the biography he wrote in the 1990s, Joachim Von Ribbentrop: Hitler's Diplomat. The best story about the champagne salesman turned Nazi Foreign Minister is summarized by Wikipedia:
Hitler dismissed Göring's concerns by saying "But after all, [Von Ribbentrop] knows quite a lot of important people in England," leading Göring to reply "Mein Führer, that may be right, but the bad thing is, they know him."

31 comments:

Fred said...

Speaking of Mexicans in Hollywood, I happened upon a picture of the Mexican director Guillermo del Toro in the paper this weekend. I'd heard the name before many times, but had never put a face to it. Del Toro must be one of the most Nordic men in Mexico.

Anonymous said...

Mexican-Americans are extraordinarily under-represented in Hollywood.


I've often wondered why that is. Hispanics are the largest minority group, and will soon be the largest ethnic grup in the US, but they're almost absent in popular culture.

Eva Longoria, Jessica Alba (who has never been to enthusaistic talking about her roots) and Jennifer Lopez are the only big Hispanic stars I can think of right now, unless you count white Hispanics like Cameron Diaz.

So, if you're Latino and want to make it in the entertainment biz, you should be a) a woman and b) hot with Anglo facial features.

Anonymous said...

The parallel in journalism (that you've alluded to before, Steve) will probably turn out to be blogger Matt Yglesias (currently being feted in Shanghai by the PRC propaganda ministry).

Matt is three-quarters Ashkenazi by ethnic origin, but, hey, since his paternal grandfather was a Cuban (albeit a full-blooded Spaniard, not a mestizo), well that makes him "Latino"! At least, that will be the claim in years to come. Despite the Grace Episcopal/Harvard pedigree.

There is now a great parody/running mockery site of him up at
http://www.ydiot.net

Anonymous said...

If they don't let you into JP Morgan, go out and start Goldman Sachs...

Thrasymachus said...

Groan- sounds like a remake of "The Bicycle Thief." A good movie to rip off but I bet it will suck, and some things should just be left alone.

"The Bicycle Thief" was after all largely about cruelty and callousness among the lower classes, which no doubt are plentiful in East LA, but Weitz isn't going to show that.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I've had too much coffee this morning, but this post seems a bit scattered to me.

ironrailsironweights said...

Rather oddly for a man whose father was in the fashion industry, Chris Weitz looks unkempt and disheveled in many of his online photos.

Peter

Anonymous said...

You still wear socks?

Albertosaurus

Whiskey said...

I too immediately thought of the Bicycle Thief. Only without the Italian neo-realism and late-War surrealism.

Del Toro would have been terrible for the Hobbit. Making the most "small" Little Englander story into ... a gigantic mess.

Pan's Labyrinth is not the Hobbit.

Lucille said...

Jennifer Lopez is not a "Mexican-American." Latino does not always mean Mexican.

Anonymous said...

Fun fact: Adrian Dannatt, the author of that Independent review, was the child star of the British TV adaptation of Just William in the 1970s. He has the irksome habit of demanding to know whether casual acquaintances remember his name whenever he runs into them.

Anonymous said...

You could point to Hitler's utter ignorance of England and the English as his biggest mistake and I wouldn't argue. Did the guy ever travel? Besides the invasions of course. You have to have a certain level of competence and intelligence to do what he did and yet his understanding of the English were dumb, dumb, dumb; like, borderline Hess dumb.

Known for doing his deeds on Saturdays, he once said of Chamberlain "He likes to take weekends in the country; I like to take countries on the weekend."

Note to putative dictators: go backpacking first.

Roger Chaillet said...

What's a "Latino"?

I've known plenty of Mexicans, a small number of Puerto Ricans and an even smaller number of Cubans.

But I've never met a "Latino" in my life.

Hispanics will not be the largest ethnic group in the country any time soon.

There will be revolution before this happens.

Cinco Jotas said...

It is odd that there aren't more Hispanic stars in Hollywood at the moment, especially as there were several very big names in the 1950s: Anthony Quinn, Ricard Montalban, Cesar Romero, Jose Ferrar.

Now what do we have? Charlie Sheen, and Cheech Marin?

Kylie said...

Thrasymachus said..." Groan- sounds like a remake of 'The Bicycle Thief.' A good movie to rip off but I bet it will suck, and some things should just be left alone."

My thoughts exactly. What next? "Guillermo B", a poignant movie about an elderly indigent Latino and his little perro? "Dos mujeres" a devastating movie about a mother and her hija trying to escape the warring drug cartels? "El camino" a lyrical movie about a simple-minded Latina and her brutish itinerant jefe?

jody said...

i'm not clear on how short, fat, uncreative, IQ 88 people are supposed to break into hollywood.

i'm confident mexicans are also "Underrepresented! News Story at 11!" at the national labs in new mexico, despite being the outright majority in the state.

steve's recurring account of going to the movies in LA, and being the only white guy in a crowd of 100 mexicans watching a screen filled white actors, is an experience i had many times when dating mexican women. well, there were sure to be a few filipinos in the crowd, so i wasn't the only person who wasn't mexican.

of course the juicy story here is that mexicans do not show up on the screen, a problem which black americans and their friends fixed by suing the shit out of everybody until there was an FCC mandated minimum of 5 black guys per television commercial. this is really all the lawyers and journalists would care about. visible representation or lack thereof and what to do about it.

but the real story is mexicans do not really show up anywhere in the process of making movies. what talent do they have for any of the creative processes involved in making films? on average they don't have any of these talents. neither do black americans. but this is a behind the camera issue IE the situation is not visible to anybody but people very interested in the nuts and bolts of the movie industry, so it is less likely to be the subject of lawsuits. most people don't even know who the directors actually are and might be clueless at how utterly white dominated the creative process is in hollywood. movies are basically the product of the imagination of white guys. in fact in 2010 it's probably downright unamerican for an industry to be so white male. but since they're all behind the camera, it goes unnoticed. people don't even really notice that movies are scored with classical music IE the music of the whites, and all the memorable scores they like are white created too. heck, a modern 100 million dollar movie could easily be seen as the ultimate expression of the dreaded, hated white male.

"Start buying scripts written by African-Americans or we'll sue! Start sending contracts to special effects shops owned and operated by African-Americans or we'll sue!" this is not as sexy as suing the heck out of MGM, sony, coca-cola, and mcdonald's until every family in every movie and television show is a black family or has family friends that are black. in fact, i think it's pretty much law in the US that black americans have to appear in any production created by a camera. i wonder when mexicans will hire good lawyers to cut a similar deal?

notice what has not been touched by this effect: youtube. almost all youtube content is created by whites and, gasp, asians. africans and mestizos (and muslims, probably due to it being illegal in islamic nations, so we'll say north africans or arabs) almost don't appear on youtube.

Boris said...

Wait, are socks some sort of SWPL shibboleth, or what?

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

Known for doing his deeds on Saturdays, he once said of Chamberlain "He likes to take weekends in the country; I like to take countries on the weekend.""

I saw that quote (about Chamberlain and Hitler) attributed to Churchill, which makes more sense - Churchill was much wittier than Hitler. Hitler, like Superman, never said anything funny.

Fred said...

"Note to putative dictators: go backpacking first."

Note to you: look up the definition of "putative" before using it in a sentence again.

"i'm not clear on how short, fat, uncreative, IQ 88 people are supposed to break into hollywood."

"steve's recurring account of going to the movies in LA, and being the only white guy in a crowd of 100 mexicans watching a screen filled white actors, is an experience i had many times when dating mexican women."

What was it that attracted you to "short, fat, uncreative, IQ 88" women?

Mr. Anon said...

If this keeps Peter Jackson from ruining "The Hobbit" as he ruined "Lord of the Rings", then it's all to the good. I don't consider "Lord of the Rings" to be a movie at all - it was a big-screen video game, with herky-jerky camera movements that prevented one from even discerning what was going on. The casting wasn't bad - except for the Hobbits, who were too emotional and weepy - but the script was awful - it had nothing of the majesty that was in Tolkien's prose. And Jackson's lame direction, and especially his inability to edit himself, makes his films unwatchably bad.

Anonymous said...

"I saw that quote (about Chamberlain and Hitler) attributed to Churchill, which makes more sense - Churchill was much wittier than Hitler. Hitler, like Superman, never said anything funny."

How would you know? Hitler certainly did not have the gift of the witty phrase or bon mot, but he was a gifted mimic who often had his audience in stitches, imitating people like Mussolini (admittedly an easy target).

And Hitler's long list of countries that FDR allegedly warned him not to invade is quite funny, if you've seen the video with the full translation.

Don't count on the modern mass media to give you a fair portrait of the man: the image of the humorless shrieker is too well built up for them to undermine it by showing you a bit of the lighter side of the man.

Now Stalin - there was a man with no humor at all.

Steve Sailer said...

No, Stalin likely had a sense of humor, probably the nastiest sense of humor since his hero Ivan the Terrible.

Anonymous said...

Hispanics will not be the largest ethnic group in the country any time soon. There will be revolution before this happens.

I assure you, the overfed, tv-medicated American public won't be launching any revolutions.

i'm not clear on how short, fat, uncreative, IQ 88 people are supposed to break into hollywood.

Blacks with even lower IQs have done it.

i think it's pretty much law in the US that black americans have to appear in any production created by a camera. i wonder when mexicans will hire good lawyers to cut a similar deal?

Mexicans, and Hispanics in general, prefer to watch Nordic types rather than themselves. I doubt this will be happening any time soon.

africans and mestizos (and muslims, probably due to it being illegal in islamic nations, so we'll say north africans or arabs) almost don't appear on youtube.

This assertion is too stupid to merit comment.

Anonymous said...

IQ 88 would be getting out almost a full standard deviation above the mean.

Also, the "white men" who dominate Hollyweird are strictly of the Blue State nihilist variety - Red Staters [with any sort of a hopeful outlook on life] are now forbidden to work in movies or television.

Which, btw, is what is so strange about watching Turner Classic Movies - realizing that there was once an era in our histroy when normal folk could work in Hollyweird [as writers and directors and actors and actresses].

Frankly it's more than a little surrealistic to see the work of arch-conservative GOP types in serious art preserved on celluloid [A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Fountainhead, To Catch a Thief, Liberty Valance, Josey Wales, etc etc etc].

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

How would you know? Hitler certainly did not have the gift of the witty phrase or bon mot, but he was a gifted mimic who often had his audience in stitches, imitating people like Mussolini (admittedly an easy target).

And Hitler's long list of countries that FDR allegedly warned him not to invade is quite funny, if you've seen the video with the full translation."

I've seen the video. In the original German, which I spoke pretty well at the time.

"Don't count on the modern mass media to give you a fair portrait of the man: the image of the humorless shrieker is too well built up for them to undermine it by showing you a bit of the lighter side of the man."

I've heard him speak as much as you probably have. I still don't think he's funny.

Kylie said...

Steve Sailer said..."No, Stalin likely had a sense of humor, probably the nastiest sense of humor since his hero Ivan the Terrible."

Yes, according to Wikipedia, "Stalin's son Yakov, whom he had with his first wife Ekaterina Svanidze, shot himself because of Stalin's harshness toward him, but survived. After this, Stalin said 'He can't even shoot straight'."

There is no truth, however, to the persistent rumor that Stalin wanted to institute "Open Mic" nights at the Lubyanka. Recently declassified documents indicate that after the concept was explained to him, he said, "I prefer open graves."

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Kylie,

What next? "Guillermo B", a poignant movie about an elderly indigent Latino and his little perro? ...

It struck me while reading your post that we're headed back to the days of West Side Story and Twelve Angry Men. (Puerto Ricans, but you get the idea.)

It's hilarious how completely baffled the educated classes are by Meso-Americans. If you say Hispanic, they reflexively think 'Benicio del Toro!' or 'Javier Badem!'--they're Hispanic! Or they mentally dredge up some Conde' Nast photo they saw (or imagined they saw) of a Wise Old Latino Woman in a peasant skirt making tortillas. Actual Meso-Americans coming home from menial jobs with twelve-packs of Natural Light are invisible to them. Occasionally, as here, one of the elites has an a-ha! moment, like he's just discovered some exotic insect, and makes some syrupy, patronizing movie about them. (Compare the reaction to movies like Colors or Apocalypto.)

BTW, I use the term 'Meso-American' a lot and it's amusing to watch people's mouths flop open and the gears grind to a halt. (A meso-whatcha? Huh?)

David said...

jody said:

>africans and mestizos [...] almost don't appear on youtube<

Huh?

You must mean that your viewing choices select them out.

Anonymous said...

most people don't even know who the directors actually are and might be clueless at how utterly white dominated the creative process is in hollywood. movies are basically the product of the imagination of white guys.

I've had just about enough of your slurs against white people!

Anonymous said...

"Hitler was overheard to remark: ‘I entered this war a nationalist, but I shall
come out of it an imperialist.’ Once, he had been heard to brag: ‘Mr.
Chamberlain likes to take weekends in the country; I shall take countries in
the weekend!’
In the relaxed company"

Irving, Hitler's War, p.420

The context:

"Between sessions of this languid and untidy conference the ministers
sprawled about on the sofas, or telephoned their capitals; at one time
Daladier and Hitler were swapping anecdotes from the World War trenches,
at another, Chamberlain was regaling him with weekend fishing tales.
At three p.m. Hitler retired to his apartment for lunch with Himmler
and the Italians.
He fumed at Chamberlain’s obstinacy: ‘Daladier – now there’s a lawyer
who sees things as they are and draws the proper consequences. That Chamberlain
however – he has haggled over every village and petty interest like a
market stall-holder, far worse than the Czechs would have been! What has
he got to lose in Bohemia? What’s it to do with him!’ Hitler burst out, ‘I
never have weekends – and I hate fishing!’"

HW, p. 129.

another anon said...

sombody wrote: "most people don't even know who the directors actually are and might be clueless at how utterly white dominated the creative process is in hollywood. movies are basically the product of the imagination of white guys."

Anonymous responded "I've had just about enough of your slurs against white people!"


omg! Thanks Anonymous! I needed that laugh.