Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam is mostly in the news for all the right reasons, but this time the blue-eyed star is courting attention for something else entirely.
As Deadline reported earlier this month, Hunnam has been cast by Legendary Studios to play the role of Edgar Valdes Villareal, a Mexican drug kingpin who was nicknamed “La Barbie” because of his green eyes and fair complexion, in the film American Drug Lord.
But now the actor and the studio are both facing strong criticism from several quarters for picking the white actor to play the role of a Hispanic character.
This news comes amid Hollwyood’s latest diversity scandal, after the Academy failed to nominate a single actor (or actress) of African-American origin for the top acting awards for the second year in the row.
Although the studio claims that Charlie Hunnam is apt for the role — considering both him and Villareal share the same complexion and facial features — many have been left wondering why the studio did not instead opt for a Hispanic actor with similar features.
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) January 25, 2016
A report published in the L.A. Times criticized the move by Legendary Studios, arguing that such decisions are exactly what is wrong with Hollywood.
“From the very start, don’t just assume that a white man or woman can play a particular role. Open your minds to exploring the same film with a different person,” said April Reign, the creator of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite on Twitter.
Social media has responded strongly to Hollywood’s lack of diversity and racial prejudice which, according to critics, has once again manifested itself in the Oscar nominations. With Charlie Hunnam being cast as a Mexican, the outrage shows no signs of abating.
Facebook user Leonel Ibarra, in a conversation with the Times, said Hollywood has not progressed since the 1950s when white actors were cast in the role of Hispanics or Native Americans. Seventy years later, Ibarra argues, the situation remains pretty much the same.
“There are so many talented Latino actors that could play that role. This reminds me of the 50s and 60s when they hired white guys to play Native Americans or African Americans. This is 2016, get with the program Hollywood!”
— Azucena Rasilla (@ChroniclesOfAzu) January 24, 2016
Brent Wilkes, National Executive Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, expressed his disappointment at the news that a white actor like Charlie Hunnam has been cast in the role of a Mexican drug lord. He compared the decision to cast Hunnam as being similar to the one which took place during the casting of the West Side Story, way back in 1961.
“The West Side Story movie of 1961 serves as the classic example of this casting problem – remember when Natalie Wood played Maria? Unfortunately, it’s 2016 and not much has changed. Charlie Hunnam is the new Maria in this case – but it is important to point out that the issue isn’t so much that non-Latinos should never play Latinos, as much as it is that Latinos are still grossly under-represented and this needs to be addressed.”
— Pandora (@PandorasEyep) January 18, 2015
American Drug Lord is still in the preliminary stages of development, according to Brietbart News, and is set to recount the life of “La Barbie”— a citizen of the United States — who is widely considered to be the only American to become a prominent cartel leader in Mexico. Villareal was arrested in 2010 and extradited to the United States after the escape of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Charlie Hunnam has not yet spoken on the matter himself, but with his history of having pulled out of major roles in the past, it is quite possible that Hunnam might be reconsidering the decision after the widespread backlash.
[Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images]