John Leguizamo is opening up about his experience climbing the Hollywood ladder, including the modifications he made in his own life to avoid becoming too tan. This as roles for white Latinos continue to dominate in both the big and small screen today, with the industry mostly ignoring those in the community who are mestizo, Black and Asian, among others.
“There’s colorism within Latin culture that we have to fix, but there’s colorism in Hollywood too,” Leguizamo told Nick Barili in his new series Seen in collaboration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
He continued, “I’ve benefitted from being light skin, and I stayed out of the sun so I could work. I definitely would not go in the sun. For years I was so pasty so I could work. All the Latinos who’ve made it so far, a lot of them were light-skinned. What happened to all the Afro Latinos and the majority of the indigenous Latinos? They don’t get a shot.”
Leguizamo began his career in the 1980s as a stand-up comedian before starring in (and often producing, writing and directing) projects for TV, film and theater. His work has earned awards including Emmys, Tonys and Obies.
Lequizamo recounted one particular film, which he declined to name, on which had already worked for a week when he received a call from the director saying they “can’t have him in the movie anymore” because a Latin actress had just been cast and they “couldn’t have two Latin people in the movie because then it becomes a Latin movie.”
“He meant he can only have one token at a time,” he said.
The multihyphenate also spoke about the backlash he’s received for speaking out regarding these issues, and his determination to continue.
“Being vocal has a cost. When I became politically conscious and then politically on my social, I lost half my followers,” Leguizamo said. “Then I got a lot of hate tweets like, ‘Go back to your country. Go back to Mexico.’ I’m not Mexican but I’ll gladly go back to Mexico because it’s a great country. When I post stuff on my Facebook, they say, ‘John used to be so entertaining, but now you’re a bore.’ All this hate stuff, I just ignore. I feel like if you’ve achieved a certain amount of success, it’s your duty to give back. You gotta give back.”
Watch the interview in full below.