Wednesday, May 26, 2010

J.Lo's New Movie and Cultural Identity

OK, disclaimer: Katie has NOT seen the movie! However, I found this interesting article on Feministing and I had a few things to say. Also, some spoilers.

First, read the article here. Read all the comments, while you're at it.

Basic synopsis: They're pissed because J.Lo seems to play a "white" character when we all know the actress herself is of Puerto Rican descent.

OK......First, J.Lo is an actress. She's not allowed to play people of a different ethnicity if she can pass and she's qualified? Also, must she incorporate something about PR/Hispanic/Latina identity into every chick flick she makes?

Second, you'll notice I put "white" in quotes. I hope we all know that race is not always related to either national or cultural identity. The author, a Cuban herself, makes many assumptions about J.Lo's character, including that she can't have any European ancestry whatsoever or that it would be near impossible for her to have two redheaded babies. Never mind that people who identify with Hispanic or Latin cultures can have a wide variety of ethnic diversity. Never mind all the fair skinned, light haired Caribbeans and Central/South Americans I know and work alongside with. Never mind that it was European nations who colonized those countries, especially the islands (where many indigenous populations did NOT survive and, as a result, may have more European or African descended people than anything else). Never mind the influence of WWII and European immigration to many South American countries. After all that, it's unheard of for someone we've LABELED as "Hispanic" to be WHITE??

While I'm not Hispanic, it reminds me of the cultural labeling I constantly face. Because I'm fair-skinned but with darker features and because I'm multilingual, people are constantly trying to guess my ethnicity. I've been mistaken for everything from Puerto Rican to Greek to Sicilian, yet I am a mix of European ancestry and I identify with my Italian heritage (from Tuscany, a northern province). I've had people think I didn't speak English. At the same time, I always hear, "You don't LOOK Italian." What, because I don't have a certain kind of nose, my skin isn't dark, and my hair isn't thick, my ethnic and cultural heritage and identity just doesn't exist? Really? Should my professor, of Indian descent, be allowed to identify as Kenyan, even though her family is from Nairobi, just because she doesn't appear as your typical African?

What do these have in common? They involve someone telling someone else that they can or cannot identify as something based on appearances. J.Lo's character can't be seen as "Hispanic" because her two babies are "white" and her relatives are "white" (never mind that she may not actually be using her identity in this film. Also, Cameron Diaz, a blond woman, is of Cuban descent). My ethnicity is always called into question because I look a certain way and I can talk a certain way. National, regional, and cultural identities of people can be questioned, simply because of how things appear (remember Teresa Heinz Kerry coming under fire for identifying as "African American", even though her family is from Africa?). And most of it is arbitrary. For example, Hotel Rwanda has a scene where a journalist is asking about the difference between Hutus and Tutsis. The journalist then asks two women what they identify as (one was Hutu, the other, a Tutsi). He said they looked exactly the same.

I am appalled that a community like Feministing, a community that claims to fight this sort of stereotyping (whether with racism, classism, or sexism), is actually making use of it. Not every movie (certainly not one meant for mere entertainment) needs to be a soap box for ethnic pride. As for the issues of identity, having a kid with red hair doesn't make you anything but a parent of a kid with red hair. It's our blood, our upbringing, our personal experiences, and our choices that choose that sort of identity. That last bit, the choice, was what I thought people fought for.

No comments:

Post a Comment