The horror! Spanish actor plays a Cuban-American

“Being the Ricardos” is a film about a week in the life of the cast of “I Love Lucy.” With so many sports events cancelled due to the Wuhan coronavirus, I watched this movie on Amazon Prime last week.

The plot centers around (1) the marital problems of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and (2) the turmoil stemming from reports that Ball once registered to vote as a Communist. There’s also a heavy dose of feminism, which is natural in a film about a female television pioneer in the 1950s.

The anti-anti-communism is another matter. Seventy years after the fact, the same people who wanted an investigation of possible Russian influence in the outer reaches of social media are still incensed that, at the outset of the Cold War, Congress investigated, with reasonable cause, possible Soviet influence in Hollywood — the utterly dominant force in American culture at the time.

To be fair, “The Ricardos” isn’t as bad as most films in the “blacklist” genre. The villains are journalists, especially Walter Winchell, not so much the public officials actually doing the investigating.

The House Committee on Unamerican Activities takes a shot or two, but not the rap. It had already cleared Ball. And — spoiler alert — FBI director J. Edgar Hoover does a turn as the film’s deus ex machina.

Furthermore, communism isn’t romanticized. In fact, there are communist villains, albeit only in the form of references to Cuban commies.

Yet, the Ball character excuses the communism of her American mentor (he just cared about workers) and suggests that, at the time she registered as a Communist, it wasn’t much different than registering as a Republican.

The best thing about “Being the Ricardos” is the performance of Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz. In my view, Bardem is spectacular and perfect for the role.

Yet, his selection to play Arnaz has come under fire from identity politics precincts of the Latino community. Why? Because Arnaz was Cuban-American and Bardem is a Spaniard. He has no links to Cuba and isn’t even considered a Latino. The identity politics bean counters classify him as Hispanic.

Here is one example of the objections

I’m just here to remind Hollywood… that Desi Arnaz was Cuban-American… so Latino…. and Javier Bardem.. is Hispanic…with no Latino roots. And as much as I adore Javier Bardem… stop casting Spaniards in Latino roles.


Here’s another:

A lot of people in Spain are bothered if others confuse them for Latin American because Spaniards see Latinos as people of color, and they don’t want to be associated with that. What bothers me is not being considered a person of color, but that people ignore that Spain was a colonizer country. It erases that history.

So casting a Spaniard as a Cuban-American erases Spain’s colonial history? Please.

Someone called Yolanda Machado is even unhappy that the film wasn’t “written by the funny, creative and fierce Cuban-American.”

In other news, a new version of Macbeth by one of the Coen brothers features Denzel Washington in the title role. Funny, he doesn’t look Scottish.

I understand the distinction. There are plenty of roles for Whites, whereas some Latinos believe that Latino actors aren’t getting enough roles.

But the only obligation of an artist or a film director is to present the best work he can. If he believes that a Spaniard will deliver the best performance of Desi Arnaz, the Spaniard should be cast as Arnaz. It’s not the film director’s job to atone for Spanish colonialism or to compensate for other cases in which Latino actors may have been best for a role but were passed over.

Bardem responded to the flap by saying, “I’m an actor, and that’s what I do for a living: try to be people that I’m not.” Right.

But then Bardem appeared to play the victim card:

What do we do with Marlon Brando playing Vito Corleone? What do we do with Margaret Thatcher played by Meryl Streep? Daniel Day-Lewis playing Lincoln? Why does this conversation happen with people with accents?

Where is that conversation with English-speaking people doing things like “The Last Duel,” where they were supposed to be French people in the Middle Ages? That’s fine. But me, with my Spanish accent, being Cuban?’

He concluded by saying, “if we want to open the can of worms, let’s open it for everyone.”

I say there are no genuine worms in the can.

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