As a white Latina, I know my experience is not the only kind in the Latinx community. I don’t want it to be. Because contrary to what you’ve seen on TV or in movies, Latinas aren’t all light skinned with straight hair. Some in the community have dark skin and tightly coiled hair. And you know what? They’re just as Latina as I am and deserve all the screen time and opportunities to tell their unique experience as Latinas.
Watching HBO Max’s Rizo (“rizo” is the Spanish word for “curl”) I felt anger like I haven’t in a while. Here was Cristina, played by Laura Guzman, a talented and beautiful Latina who was working her ass off at every turn and going for roles that fit her. But time and time again she experienced ignorant people who don’t even know where the Dominican Republic is or that their people are just as Latinx as someone from Puerto Rico or Cuba.
That ignorance speaks volumes. It paints a picture where Hollywood doesn’t really want to get to know the Latinx community. They just want to stay in their safe spaces where they think we’re either the sexy Latina, the maid, or the gangster while being light skinned with straight hair. And it’s bullshit. We are more than what Hollywood imagines us to be and Rizo is clear that it’s done with this as well.
Even from the cover image of this post it’s clear that Hollywood is weighing on this talented Latina. Here she is, in her full glory, and around her are tools to straighten her hair because it’ll make her more “appealing” or “acceptable” to those in Hollywood that are giving the roles and making the stars. And it pushes Cristina to a point where she basically goes, “Fuck it. I’m not going to stand for a machine that wants to strip what makes me…well, me.”
And I’m so proud of Cristina, the story Rizo told, and how it’s telling a story all too common in the Latinx community. We’re done waiting for people who are not part of our community telling our stories. It’s time to team up, because you best believe Cristina and Monica, the latter played by Jocelyn Marie, aren’t the only Latinas with a dream, and it’s time to tell our own stories. That’s why I love Rizo and the story it’s Afro-Latina lead tells.
If those in power aren’t going to create change to show all facets of the Latinx community, then we’re going to write, create, and eventually become those people in power. That’s why the final scene of Rizo made me cry. Cristina made it and is effectively opening the door for other women like her. And that’s something to be celebrated and that I hope inspires Afro-Latinas to start/continue/keep working to change the status quo.
On a special side note, and what made the ending even more special, is the that woman that enters at the end to audition is the director Jeanette Dilone. That smile on her face as she spotted Cristina and Monica, women that looked like her behind the director’s table, was real. She felt that moment, we felt that moment, and it grounded this movie in a way feature films on a mega budget could only dream about.
Rizo is available on HBO Max after winning it’s Latinx Short Film Competition and is an official selection at the official Philadelphia Latino Film Festival.