Saying she should be “deeply ashamed of herself,” the head of the National Hispanic Media Coalition has called on renowned acting coach Lesly Kahn to meet with him to discuss an audio file that surfaced yesterday in which she can be heard telling a non-Hispanic student that she would have a better chance of landing an agent and acting gigs if she pretends to be Latina.
Kahn, who has apologized, went so far as to suggest that the young actress change her name to Rosa Ramirez and to get headshots to further advance the deception.
On the tape, Kahn told a class of acting students that the young woman should come with a Hispanic name “that will absolutely convince people that you’re Latin.”
The young woman told Kahn that she is Armenian – “100% Ashkenazi Jewish – but that she often gets mistaken for Hispanic.
“F*ck the Armenian, that’s not going to help you,” Kahn told her. “The Latin could actually get you interviews for representation. Just the fact that your name is Rosa Ramirez is gonna get you a meeting. … So you might try it. … Go to the headshot shop and tell them you’re Latin. Wear something f*cking red. Wear some f*cking sparkly earrings. Change your goddamned name, and let’s just do an experiment.”
Said NHMC president and CEO Alex Nogales today: “You should be deeply ashamed of yourself for the outrageous, insensitive comments you made to a student in one of your classes, especially because you say you are Jewish. The Jewish community, more than any other, knows, and has experienced extreme prejudice, racism, and discrimination over the centuries. Yet here you are, flippantly encouraging a Jewish student in front of her peers to change her name to Rosa Ramirez so that she can get some of the few jobs that are calling for a Latina actress.”
“If that weren’t enough,” Nogales continued, “you go on and on callously calling it an interesting and entertaining experiment. Shame on you. Latinos are severely underrepresented in the film and television industry, and through your words you are contributing to even less representation. Justice would be served if all the Latino students that have attended your classes get their money back because they certainly are not getting its worth from you.”
Kahn offered a “most sincere apology,” saying on Twitter that she believes in “diversity and inclusion in the arts and in all areas of life,” and that she will “use this as learning experience to ensure against that type of incident in the future.”
Nogales, however, wants her to meet with him and other Hispanic leaders “to discuss how she can respectfully address the issue of diversity in the entertainment industry in the future.” He said he has called her to discuss the matter, and said she “has agreed to return his call.” Kahn could not be reached for comment.
The NHMC held its 21st annual Impact Awards on Friday, where Aubrey Plaza, recipient of the award for Outstanding Performance in a Motion Picture, noted that “no Latina actress has ever won best actress at the Oscars.” Rita Moreno (West Side Story, 1962) and Mercedes Ruehl (The Fisher King, 1992) are the only Latinas to win Supporting Actress Oscars.
Earlier this month, Nogales and some 50 supporters protested outside the annual Oscar luncheon, carrying signs saying “Enough is Enough” and demanding that the Hollywood film studios include more Latinos in front of and behind the cameras. “Only 3.1% of the speaking roles in Hollywood movies go to Latinos, and we make up 18% of the population,” he told Deadline.
The NHMC will hold a second demonstration Saturday to protest “the decades-long exclusion of Latinos from on-screen and behind-the-camera roles by motion picture executives.” That protest will be held at Highland Avenue and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, near where the Oscars will be held the next day.