John Leguizamo has spoken out about how colourism in Hollywood has shaped his career in a new interview with Deadline, which was done as part of a series in collaboration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“There’s colourism within Latin culture that we have to fix, but there’s colourism in Hollywood too,” The actor, who has mixed Colombian and Puerto Rican heritage, said. Leguizamo started his career as a stand-up comedian before pivoting to acting. He’s played roles in films like the musical Moulin Rouge, the romance Romeo + Juliet and family comedy Super Mario Bros. He’s most recently been involved with animated Disney movies like Encanto, where he voices the character Bruno.
He told Deadline that while he “benefitted” from being light-skinned, he was conscious of how going darker could affect his career. “I stayed out of the sun so I could work,” he said. “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.”
In the interview, Leguizamo also said that one movie, which he didn’t name, let him go on the basis of his nationality. He explained how a week into production, the director called him and said they “can’t have him in the movie anymore” because a Latin actress had just been cast. According to Leguizamo, the director said that they “couldn’t have two Latin people in the movie because then it becomes a Latin movie.” Recounting the experience, Leguizamo said that “he [the director] meant he can only have one token at a time.”
While Leguizamo told Deadline that he has become more “politically conscious” online in recent years, this came at a “cost.” When he started posting political content on social media, he said that he lost half his followers. Things then escalated for the actor when he started to experience online trolling.
“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,” he said. “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.”
In an interview with The Digital Fix in December, Leguizamo praised Encanto for paving the way for more Latinx representation. “We Latinx people are so underrepresented, well actually excluded, to be honest with you, in ‘Hollywoodn’t’ and to see a whole cast of Latinx,” he said. “I mean, look at this framing right here, all these faces, that was not the norm, and for this to be the norm, I just got to say, I don’t believe in God, but I almost want to believe in God all of a sudden.”
Encanto is now available to stream on Disney Plus.