In an effort to build a space for queer people like myself, every Tuesday I’ll be posting opinion pieces, listicals, reviews, and more focused on the LGBT community. Welcome to Queerly Not Straight! Enjoy and leave a comment below if you have a suggestion for what I should cover next.
Note: I’m a queer Latina and Theo Rossi played a queer Latino on Luke Cage. He’s fair game!
Hollywood has a Theo Rossi problem. Correction, Hollywood has an ‘Italians keep playing Latinos problem.’ Theo Rossi benefits from it and continues perpetuating this stereotype that Latinx representation is only good when they look like Italians. And I hate it.
My main issue with Theo Rossi playing a Latino is that I always THOUGHT he was Latinx like me. I’m Puerto Rican. I was born on the island. I immigrated to the United States, a U.S. citizen the moment I was born. I know what it means to be Latinx, what and where my roots come from, and the struggle that Hollywood has had in representing people like me beyond someone like John Leguizamo playing a drag queen on To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. It was the standard stereotype of popping gum, brightly painted lips and distinguished accent for the women and strapping Latinx lovers who either ended up being the heartthrob of the story of the gangster into drugs.
When I saw Theo Rossi on TV during his Sons of Anarchy days, I was upset that the same thing was happening again with a Latinx character. He was the gangster/drug dealer wannabe and I was ambivalent and disappointed all at once. But over time and through a lot of shit, I came to enjoy his character, warts and all. I was lured into a false sense of security. One where I felt represented by a character who was the stereotype I hated, but so much more when you took a moment to look at him.
This went on for years. I was proud of Rossi and wanted to consume everything he made because he was family, like me, an islander. When Luke Cage came around I was over the moon because this was high profile, game changing, and proof that Rossi was an exceptional actor that deserved to be in the Marvel TV universe.
All of this fell apart during season two of Luke Cage when I found out the truth.
Theo Rossi isn’t Puerto Rican.
Theo Rossi is Italian.
It was like going through the stages of grief when I found out, except I never got past anger because this felt like a betrayal, one that he willingly entered into in exchange for money, fame, and adoration. Rossi wasn’t an islander. Rossi wasn’t family. Rossi wasn’t anything like me. In fact, the only similarities we had were that we both enjoyed Italian food and that we’re both humans. That’s it. Because he wasn’t Puerto Rican or Latinx. He was Italian, a liar, and part of a bigger problem in Hollywood: latinx representation is fine and dandy, as long as they look Italian.
And that was a blow that shook up my entire reality.
If I had been fed this reality that I wholeheartedly believed, accepted, and thought to be a true depiction of Latinx people, I can’t even imagine what others that aren’t Latinx might believe. Maybe this is why it’s so easy for Italians to take on Latinx roles. It’s safe and more palatable if the representation being delivered is in a form that is familiar to people. So once you had an Italian play one Latinx character, once it reaches critical acclaim, it’s easy to bank on that again and again. I’m looking at you, Scarface…
A whole new world has opened up to me after discovering Rossi’s lies. Being Latinx is not one easily definable thing. It’s not Tony Montana. Being Latinx is Tessa Thompson from Thor: Ragnarok. Being Latinx is Alexis Bledel from Gilmore Girls. Being Latinx is Odette Annable from Supergirl. That is being Latinx. Not Theo Rossi, the fake Latinx who has been banking on Hollywood’s continued problem with representation instead of SPEAKING UP about the damage it does to Latinx representation.
Because of people like Theo Rossi, darker skinned Latinx people that don’t fit into the Italian box, can not take on roles meant for Latinos. Because of people like Theo Rossi, I spent years thinking that he was the gold standard of what MY PEOPLE looked like. Because of Theo Rossi, I now know that Google is my best friend and that I don’t have to take fake Latinos to feel represented. I can argue, I can fight, and I can call out those who try to take advantage of my culture, language, and life.
So Theo Rossi and every other fake Latinx out there taking on roles that are not meant for you and the people in Hollywood who continue allowing this to go on, I’m coming for you. I’m gonna make sure people know that you’re lying. I’m gonna back ACTUAL LATINX actors and creators. And I’m going to start creating the content I’d like to see so no one has to go through the betrayal I went through when I discovered that Theo Rossi was a fake.
What are your thoughts on Theo Rossi playing Latinx characters? Are there any other actors that need to be called out for taking Latinx roles?
Queerly Not Straight posts every Tuesday with opinion pieces, listicals, reviews, and more focused on the LGBT community.
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Lyra enjoys loud mouthed, damaged characters, with a penchant for rescuing people and drinking their sorrows away. When she isn’t splurging on Netflix shows she’s not so quietly ranting about Teen Wolf, The Walking Dead, and Supernatural!