I set out to talk to Erica Muñoz about her lead role in the HBO feature film Long Gone By, a powerful, and interesting movie that tells a familiar story: A single mother from Nicaragua, a deportation order, and a mother fighting to secure her kid’s future. Somehow, the conversation went even further.
By design, it was very easy for me, a latina, to relate with the movie, even if my experience – and Erica’s, are not exactly similar to what Ana Alvarez, her character in Long Gone By, is going through. For Erica, in particular, this can be tied back to the fact that “this isn’t my exact experience, but I also have a mother who was a single mother, you know, raising four kids, who had to kind of claw her way into making things happen.”
This easily translates to feeling like “I know the struggle of having to do what you have to do to get things done, so in that sense I really did connect to that narrative, that feeling of just doing whatever you have to do to survive.”
Having watched Long Gone By, I admit I connected to. There was just a little thought, in the back of my mind that said, well, yes, this story is important, but why do we always tell the same story?
Erica agreed, but she also gave more depth to what they attempted to do. “I am proud of the work, I’m proud of what we tried to do with a familiar story,” she shared, and they continued to put into perspective what it means for this movie, which originally premiered at the New York Latino Film Festival, to be streaming now on all HBO platforms. “For HBO to actually pick it up it’s huge for a movie – especially a movie centered around two Latina women, not talking about men.”
As an actor there’s also a tremendous sense of accomplishment when your voice is allowed to be part of the story you’re telling. “Right from the beginning, I was involved. My voice was being heard and valued, and there was a real understanding of why it was important.”
Which translates to the change in Ana Alvarez, who Erica told us was at first supposed to be Mexican, but when she was cast, was changed to Central America, as Erica hails from Central America.
This is very important, because despite the fact that my conversation with Erica was meant to be mostly about the movie, it ended up being a real, raw conversation between two Latinas about what the world – and Hollywood, in particular, expects of us.
“It is challenging to have to speak for an entire community of people that range in skin tones, in experience, in perspective, in country.” Erica confessed. “We are so different.”
“That’s why we need more, more stories, more types of people, so we can see all of it.”
For me, this sounds obvious, but for Hollywood, it really isn’t. Latinos are seen like a monolith, and even what we do get, representation-wise, seems like it’s just never appreciated, or recognized, as much as other shows.
Erica, for example, like many of us, had this to say about One Day At A Time – the Netflix turned Pop TV show. “I remember crying when I first saw an episode of ODAAT, thinking: this is my family.It felt so good to see myself.”
But One Day At A Time, despite being a critical darling, is anything but a mainstream show. “They’re not being pushed in the way other shows are being pushed, and that’s a real problem. We don’t hear about these shows, we don’t have the spotlight.”
Add that to one reality that I’m very much aware of, and that Erica herself brought up in her conversation with me: Right now, following the cancelation of The Baker and the Beauty, there are no network shows centered around latinos.
So, at this point, it’s not even about showing all sides of the latinx experience, we don’t even get one side.
“We are so starved for rep because we don’t see it,” Erica shared, and I wholeheartedly agree. And yet, at the same time, as we delved into the fact that even the rep we do get is, sometimes, whitewashed and severely watered down, Erica herself acknowledged that a part of her understands. “It’s challenging to say no, when you just want job. But we have to, to the best of our ability. And we’re starting to see it more.”
No more Catherine Zeta Jones playing latina!
And, hopefully, no more of this idea that being latinx is just one thing, because that also hurts the community, as Erica herself noted: “My Spanish isn’t that good, and there’s a part of me that struggles with community. Sometimes I feel: I don’t belong there, I don’t belong here, where do I belong? I don’t feel White, but I can’t speak Spanish well, so where do I fit?”
This is common for many latinos, and it comes from the preconceived notions of what we are supposed to be. Well, that and the expectations.
Erica, for example, shared that she has never “gone in for a role where being latina was not a prerequisite.” She, after all, fits Hollywood’s idea of what a latina is supposed to look like. But, as she herself notes “there are roles you see where there’s no reason why the person has to be Caucasian, could be African American, Asian, Latino… but I have never, in my career, gone out for a role where it didn’t specify where I come from, which I am proud of where I come from, but the issue is …It does color who I am, but it doesn’t have to be all of who I am.”
And, even more importantly. “It doesn’t have to be a negative; it can be a positive part of who I am. Latinx doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”
Which is why it’s important that, as we support movies like Long Gone By, we never stop asking for more. Because “we need to see more joy, more interesting dynamics, some different perspectives.”
It’s okay, we can do both. I promise. We can.
Erica’s film “Long Gone By” originally premiered at the New York Latino Film Festival, and is now streaming on all HBO platforms.