John Leguizamo Recalls The Messed-Up Reason He Lost A Role To A White Actor

The “Encanto” star opened up about his frustrations with what he described as an “unspoken Latin quota” in Hollywood.
"If you look Latino, or if you have a Latino last name, the odds are against you in Hollywood," John Leguizamo wrote in the Los Angeles Times.
"If you look Latino, or if you have a Latino last name, the odds are against you in Hollywood," John Leguizamo wrote in the Los Angeles Times.
Jemal Countess via Getty Images

John Leguizamo is speaking out about the discrimination he’s faced throughout his career and continues to experience.

In an interview published Wednesday, the American actor and comedian of Colombian-Puerto Rican descent told Insider about an “unspoken Latin quota” in Hollywood — the belief that there can be too many Latino people in a film.

“This one director wanted me to be in his movie,” Leguizamo told the outlet, not naming the director. “He said, ‘I love your work, I want you in the movie.’ And then I hear back from him. He calls me up, and he says, ‘Oh, sorry man, you can’t be in my movie because I already have a Latin actress and I can’t have two Latin people in the movie.’”

Leguizamo added:

“And the thing is the guy, the real guy that the character I was to play was based on, was really Latin.”

The “Encanto” cast at the film's world premiere in 2021: Angie Cepeda, Rhenzy Feliz, Jessica Darrow, María Cecilia Botero, Stephanie Beatriz, Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Wilmer Valderrama, Mauro Castillo, Carolina Gaitán, Adassa, John Leguizamo and Diane Guerrero.
The “Encanto” cast at the film's world premiere in 2021: Angie Cepeda, Rhenzy Feliz, Jessica Darrow, María Cecilia Botero, Stephanie Beatriz, Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Wilmer Valderrama, Mauro Castillo, Carolina Gaitán, Adassa, John Leguizamo and Diane Guerrero.
Jesse Grant via Getty Images

The Golden Globe winner also told Insider about other instances where he’s gotten a role in a film with numerous Latino characters — but they’re all played by “white guys,” and he’s “the only Latin guy representing.”

Earlier this month, the “Carlito’s Way” actor wrote an open letter to Hollywood published in the Los Angeles Times. In his letter, Leguizamo expressed his anger with the lack of Latin voices in popular media.

“The Latino population is larger than the white population in California, and yet we are not represented accordingly. That is cultural apartheid,” Leguizamo wrote. “In New York, the Latino population is equal to the white population, but you would never know it if you watched local TV or read our newspapers and magazines. The metrics are on our side, but the system is not.”

He described Latinos in his letter as “born in Latin America. Not Spain, nor anywhere else in Europe. Those are white peoples.” He also wrote openly about how Latinos are discriminated against in his industry.

“You can be as talented as Marlon Brando or Ingrid Bergman, you can write like William Shakespeare or Arthur Miller, you can have the screen presence of Ryan Gosling or Jennifer Lawrence,” he wrote. “But if you look Latino, or if you have a Latino last name, the odds are against you in Hollywood.”

Leguizamo told Insider that he thinks Hollywood should embrace more Latino-led projects. He used the success of his 2021 Disney film “Encanto,” an animated feature that took place in Colombia and featured a largely Latino cast, as a prime example.

“That’s why ‘Encanto’ is crazy because it was the No. 1 movie in the world, what more proof do you need?” he said. “I’m not seeing the greenlights of those projects. Greenlight the goddamn things.”

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