The Accuracy of Representation in Films

I was born and raised by my Cuban parents and grandparents in Miami, Florida. Being raised with the Cuban culture my entire life, I have a fond appreciation and meaning of what it means to be Cuban. My grandparents would tell me stories of how happy their years in Cuba were, and I could see how much joy and also extreme sadness it would bring to them when they would repeat these remarkable stories. Both of my grandparents fell in love in Cuba ,and all their family and friends lived there; however, these happy memories came before the Communist regime of Fidel Castro. Due to the new leadership in Cuba, my family had to flee — leaving their friends, family, homes, businesses, and even clothes, as it was all stripped away from them, and they quickly had to find a way to escape a place that they loved so much.

Knowing these stories makes me very appreciative and protective of my Cuban heritage. It makes me aware of the struggles Cubans had to go through; however, when I see stories about my heritage that do not fully represent and depict their stories in an authentic way, it angers me. To me, representation is a powerful word that means to properly include and accurately portray people of different cultures. Failure to properly include and represent Latinx community in the entertainment industry, specifically major motion films, creates false perceptions of the Hispanic people and culture in order to fit a specific narrative for entertainment purposes.

In this project, my aim is to inform the audience on how the exclusion of using actors from Cuban descent is hurtful and a form of ignorance when telling the story of Cuban immigrants. As a person of Cuban descent, I would not only like my background to be properly represented, but I think it is important for the audience to see authenticity through real Cuban characters in order to understand and empathize with the story. I use my family’s own personal experiences to highlight the struggles my family had to go through when they immigrated to the US in which Hollywood ignores by making the decisions they did for Scarface,which inaccurately portrays the story of a Cuban immigrant. As a result, I am able to contribute a more realistic and authentic narrative to that of the story of Cuban immigrants.

Al Pacino in Scarface, Jack Black as Nacho Libre, and Ben Affleck as Argo. What’s wrong with the actors playing these roles? None of the actors listed above do not even have at least a fraction of background or knowledge in the roles they are representing, thus, distorting the narrative of stories that were written, which are shown to millions of people and are intended to somewhat teach the audience about a topic. The film Scarface is a prime example of a story being twisted in order to accommodate entertainment, rather than portraying it authentically to not only provide entertainment, but cultural appreciation and truth to an important narrative as well. Scarface is about a man who immigrated from Cuba during the Castro Communist regime and fled to Miami, a very similar story to that of my grandparents and every Cuban at that time. The actor who portrays Tony Montana in this film is Al Pacino, a White man with an Italian background representing the Cuban immigrant who moved to Miami and went on to become a successful drug lord.

As a girl who was raised by Cubans, I do not think Al Pacino serves as an authentic representation of a Cuban man in the film Scarface. Of course, acting is acting, and no one is going to be the exact character they are playing. However, as good as an actor Al Pacino is, his depiction of Tony Montana distorts the way Cubans are portrayed, diminishing their truth and even struggles. For example, in order to accurately portray Tony Montana, Al Pacino attempts to speak in an accent of what he thought Cuban immigrants spoke like. This, alone, diminishes the authenticity and potential opportunity the film had to accurately portray a Cuban immigrant, such as Tony Montana. According to Alex Fumero, the son of a Cuban immigrant says that his friends who idolized Scarface said that “their favorite thing to do was quote Tony Montana using the shitty accent ( Remezcla, Castillo).” Being from Cuban descent, remarks such as the ones stated above are heartbreaking because my parents and grandparents had to actually struggle to learn the language of English, therefore, having an uncontrollable accent, and Al Pacino’s portrayal of the character makes it seem as he is almost mocking and downplaying the struggles and hardships that Cuban immigrants had to go through. When my grandparents and parents came to Miami between the 1960’s and 80’s, they immediately had to learn how to speak the language, saving up every penny to go to night school and learn the English language to be able to communicate, be taken seriously, and educate themselves. As a result, Al Pacino’s portrayal of the Cuban accent trivializes those struggles. The photo below illustrates how Americans demanded that the Cuban people speak the Language of English, showing not only discrimination against the Cuban people but using forceful action to show the Cuban Immigrants that they will be excluded and ridiculed if they did not speak English.

https://twitter.com/jerryiannelli/status/1073288564572594178

Furthermore, the misrepresentation of Hispanic culture portrayed by films, such as Scarface perpetuates a false stereotype of not only the Cuban community in the example of Scarface, but in the Latinx community in cases of other films that have similar tendencies as seen in Scarface. A study called Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity states that “ Latinos are among the least represented speaking roles in film and TV, even though they make up about 17.4 percent of the U.S. population. Out of more than 11,000 speaking characters surveyed in film and TV, 5.8 percent were Hispanic or Latino.”(NBC News,Latimer). This study emphasizes not only the lack of representation in Hollywood films, but the ignorance of Hollywood to include aspiring Hispanic actors that can bring an authentic representation to characters, such as the character of Tony Montana in Scarface.

The depiction of Tony Montana in the film Scarface not only represents a false depiction of a Cuban immigrant at its core by casting a white actor; however, it perpetuates a stereotype that Latinx people are seen as criminals. When my grandparents and parents arrived from Cuba, they were heartbroken having to leave their home and had to struggle immensely to be seen as just as capable as Americans. They were instantly viewed as lesser than — not knowing how to properly speak the English language and the 1983 infamous Scarface film about drug lord Tony Montana further reiterated and perpetuated the stereotype of all Cubans being viewed as criminals who did not belong, rather than viewing the film from the perspective of a determined Cuban trying to achieve the American Dream of becoming successful. A study found in a Thesis of Georgia Southern University titled “Hispanic Stereotypes in Contemporary Film” further reiterates this message stating that “71% of people reported seeing Latinos as criminals “very often” or “sometimes” in television and film, followed by gardeners (64%) and maids (61%),(Barreto et al. 4, Pressler 13).”When these preexisting notions and stereotypes already exist, films such as Scarface perpetuate such stereotype. Alex Fumero states that “Scarface reinforces the stereotype that they’re all criminals.” This perspective is saddening because, though there were a portion of Cubans that were criminals and did commit acts such as those of Tony Montana, the majority of the Cubans came to Miami to work hard and work their way to success, wanting nothing more but freedom.

My Grandparents came here with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, having to start from scratch. They started a shoe business that eventually allowed them to pursue an American education in order for them to be seen as capable. They are the definition and representation of the Cuban people and they hold the majority of the values that the Cuban people portray. As a result, the Representation of the Cuban people, coming from someone who is constantly surrounded by Cubans, is hardworking and determined people who came to Miami and America to achieve the goals and aspirations that they couldn’t achieve in Cuba. It is only fair that films, such as Scarface at least try to represent Hispanic / Cuban characters and stories in such a manner that portray authenticity. Failure to at least try to take steps to properly include the Hispanic culture by making central characters Latinx means to show ignorance and ignore the issue of discrimination in Hollywood as a whole. When Hollywood starts to cast and use writers that relate to the narratives being written, then true authenticity will be shared with a vast audience, creating less criticism of the lack of diversity and meaning to a film and more pride.

To conclude, it is important that the audience understands and hears an authentic story of Cuban immigrants in order to empathize and understand the story of Scarface. Though the movie Scarface is loved by many, many do not understand the root of the story and are, in turn, not able to empathize with the story of Cuban immigrants. As a result, movies like this are only made for entertainment if the authenticity does not come across. With this paper, I hope to have analyzed the importance and struggles of Cuban immigrants for a better understanding of the movie and what Cubans have had to go through.

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