Remember when Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, and Alejandro González Iñárritu were being hailed as the next holy triumvirate of filmmakers—the non-union Mexican equivalents of Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas, according to some, whose rapid ascent (alongside the increasing laurels heaped onto Pedro Almadóvar) was supposed to signal a new wave of Latino cinema that would gradually take over our theaters until Lou Dobbs’ head exploded in a shower of symbolic, beautifully rendered glowing butterflies or something?
But alas, these “three amigos” can only carry so much of the weight of their part of the world; much like Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin were asked to shoulder the entire Latin crossover fad only to discover that flashes of inspiration like “Shake Your Bon-Bon” are borne away on gossamer wings, never to return, it’s difficult to launch a revolution in filmmaking with only three directors. And what happens in a year when all of the above are too busy with future projects to direct anything? You end up handing all the awards for “positive portrayals of Latino and Latino culture” to Beverly Hills Chihuahua, because Latinos hate Latinos now.
Certainly the Imagen Awards—or, as they used to be known, the What’s Edward James Olmos Been Up To? Awards—have always had a tough row to hoe, beginning with the fact that secretly racist bloggers tend to describe them using hurtful gardening metaphors. But there’s also the fact that Latino filmmakers have yet to hit upon the magic formula of “reclaiming” stereotypes and replaying them in an endless mash-ups the way African-Americans have—they need their own Tyler Perry, in other words, and while the Imagen-nominated Nothing Like The Holidays tried awfully hard to be the pandering, “Puerto Ricans yell their way through Christmas dinner like this” piece of shit the Latino community has been begging for, they’re still waiting on their own personal Madea minstrel show. (Maybe we should get John Leguizamo in drag again?)
How bad was the state of Latino cinema in 2008? So dire that there weren’t enough entries to even have a Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress category, which means Penelope Cruz didn’t get to send a video explaining why she regretfully couldn’t make it. But also so bad that six of the seven nominees for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor—including Andy Garcia, George Lopez, Paul Rodriguez, Edward James Olmos, and Cheech Marin (apparently Carlos Mencia, Horatio Sanz, and Antonio Banderas all had other conflicts)—were all nominated for Beverly Hills Chihuahua. For providing the voices of Mexican dogs. Who help a poor, lost American chihuahua voiced by Drew Barrymore avoid getting kidnapped, because that sort of thing happens all the time in Mexico. Who say things like, “We’re Mexi-can, not Mexi-can’t!” Dios mio, that’s positive! Hey, at least it wasn’t, say, a film about talking tacos who cross the border illegally, and then spend all of their spare time collecting welfare and tricking out their lowriders, right? Because that wouldn’t be positive. Stay positivo, everyone.
Of course, it wasn’t just the chihuahuas who were making all the great strides in positive depictions of Latinos; there’s also Best Supporting Actor winner Manolo Cardona—who broke new ground as Beverly Hills Chihuahua’s helpful gardener, who, amazingly enough, does not steal from his employers or sleep during the job! Positive! No wonder this country was finally ready to accept Sonia Sotomayor! And of course, there’s always television to turn to when the Latino movie cupboard is bare, where you can find people like Ugly Betty’s America Ferrara and Lost’s Jorge Garcia, whose nominations will be a lock so long as The George Lopez Show stays canceled and Eva Longoria continues to suck. (And because someone from Battlestar Galactica once pissed in the city’s drinking water, we guess.)
While the Best Actor win for Luis Guzman (for the telenovela trifle Maldeamores) over a CGIed, Spanglish-spouting, Mexican stereotype on four paws is one small consolation in a contest where there are no winners—just participants in a Latino filmmakers Field Day, all of whom get a “¡Que Bien!” sticker just for showing up—it’s a sad commentary on where that ballyhooed, supposed renaissance of Latino filmmaking stands today. Or maybe it’s just more evidence of the fact that Disney—makers of Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and owners of ABC, home to both Ugly Betty and Lost—pretty much owns the Imagen Awards, and so it doesn’t really give a shit about even pretending to be impartial, because obviously no one gives a shit about "positive portrayals of Latinos in the media" anyway. Including, apparently, Latinos themselves.