Robert Rodriguez gave a touching speech about Latinos in Hollywood before the San Antonio Association of Hispanic Journalists earlier this month.
The famed Sin City: A Dame To Kill For director attended the event on August 8 to accept the Corazón de Oro award.
Shedding tears, Rodriguez shared the story of his older sister who left to New York to pursue an acting career but came back with troubling news: As a Latina, she could not find work and ultimately changed her last name to fit in.
“I remember being really upset by that,” he said. “Not upset with my sister, but upset about an industry where you would be denied work because of your name. And I was very determined from that day forward to change that. I’m not going to change my name.”
“I was shocked to find there were just no Latinos working in Hollywood,” he told the crowd. “I mean, there were just none. So, I realized I had to create my own star system. Because anything I was going to write was going to have a Hispanic in it, because you write in your own image.”
The San Antonio-native decided he wanted to introduce more Latinos into the mainstream. He began with a few of the biggest names in Hollywood today: Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas, Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo. All four starred in his breakout directorial hit, Desperado.
Although Latinos still comprise just 4.2% of speaking rolls in top-grossing films, he has seen progress. As the head of El Rey and one of the most respected directors in Hollywood, Rodriguez constantly fights to see more Latinos in TV and cinema.
He even shared an anecdote about an actor who asked if he should change his name from “Hernandez.”
“I’m actually not going to hire you if you change your name,” he said he told the actor. “It’s reversed now. You will not get work now if you change your name, because we need you. I mean, how many Hernandezes are there in this world? Think about it. Now, how many can you name, off the top of your head, give me two that are in the popular cluture, that you can name that are actors or filmmakers?… But if you go and you become famous, it’s going to tell all the other Hernandezes that they can be there, too.”
Watch his speech below, starting at the 9 minute mark:
by Cristina Arreol