Mariana Da Silva is sick of being a drug dealer.
Or, to be more accurate, she’s sick of being asked to play one on screen.
She’s also sick of many other Latin stereotypes within the film community and through her work as one of the founders of El Cine, she’s doing something about it.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Da Silva at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where she was a and featured speaker at M Lounge’s “Women Doing Cool Shit in Hollywood Networking Event.”
Afterward, we sat down for an interview in which she described some of Hollywood’s most problematic issues with the Latin culture and shared how her foundation was helping to address those issues and foster authentic Latin representation within the film community.
Originally from Brazil, Da Silva grew up in Mexico City before relocating to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of working in film. As an actress, she found that many of the roles that she was being offered were all the same: the drug dealer or the drug dealer’s girlfriend, stating that “As an actor, I started seeing that a lot of the roles being offered to me weren’t appropriate and a correct representation of Latin culture. People love narco culture, but that’s not who we really are.”
This sentiment is echoed by Tre’vell Anderson of the Los Angeles Times, who notes that while the vast majority of individuals within the Latin culture aren’t drug dealers, there is a “template of Latinos as gang members and street thugs, as seen in everything from 1993’s “Mi Vida Loca” to Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black.” Anderson also points out that when not being typecast as criminals, Hispanic actors are often relegated to other stereotypical roles such as that of the maid or the borderline cartoonish Latin lover.
De Silva notes that while inaccurate representation is problematic, general representation is as well.
“One-third of film attendees are Hispanic, but only 10% of actors in films are Hispanic or Latin- and very rarely it’s ones that you don’t know,” says Da Silva.
The idea for El Cine came about when Da Silva started showing her friends Latin films about the culture. Soon, her friends were inviting their friends and “the demand became so high that there was no doubt that it should be an organization and something that people come and be a part of,” she stated.
The idea came to fruition when Da Silva partnered with Gilbert Trejo (Danny Trejo’s son) and gained the support of others within the film community.
As for El Cine’s activism efforts?
“We’re the first programming series that does Latin films. The idea is to create a place where Latin people can bring their friends and show connect people who are Latin and those who love Latin culture. We screen films once a month in LA. The idea is to create a place educating people about Latin culture. We screen films in LA once a month now. Our idea is to take up space and bring each other up,” she says.
In addition to hosting Q&A panels with notable entertainers and industry experts such as Danny DaVito, Cheech Marin, and Allison Anders, El Cine also tries to honor new Latin films by upcoming filmmakers as well as student films that are about the Latin culture.
“One of the things that happen when we start talking about diversity is that it becomes exclusive and we only get the person that sells diversity and then diversity dies because no one is really bringing anyone else up. Our idea is to take up space and have a place where we can share movies that mean a lot to us and resonate with us- especially now that we live here,” remarks Da Silva. “What happens is that you see the same suspects all the time, so one of the things that we’re trying to do is to find films that are good and important and don’t necessarily have all the commercial things that you see because the commercial is great, but again, we are more than the narcos culture.”
In keeping with the spirit of the event that she had just helped to host, Da Silva also pointed out that one of her focuses is to bring up other women in film.
“One of the big things that we do is [promote] women filmmakers and women actors because primarily a lot of the Latin names that you know are most often men that make the biggest splash in the Latin market. I try to highlight the women that have been a part of making these things.”
Da Silva also described how while the organization has changed her life, she hopes to change the lives of others by sharing her culture and encouraging others to do the same.
“Try to watch things that aren’t always ‘yours.’ I think that the best way that you support diversity, and this is my honest belief, is that you just show up for one another. That’s all you gotta do. Just take up space,” she said, before summarizing her efforts of the past year.
“We’ve taken up space and it’s taken off.”