‘Argo’ fosters Hollywood’s racism by casting Ben Affleck as Latino

Ben Affleck, who is white, plays Tony Mendez, an Hispanic, in 'Argo'
Ben Affleck, who is white, plays Tony Mendez, an Hispanic, in 'Argo'

Most people tend to think of the medium of film as nothing more than entertainment, and once upon a time I probably did too.

But it isn’t true, not in the slightest.

Film is an extremely powerful medium that affects the way our society sees the world. And as such, it has the power to inflict great hurt on people. A common saying is: “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” So when that line is crossed, it needs to be addressed.

MILINSKY: Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’ is filmmaking at its finest

Argo has been praised at multiple festivals and is receiving rave reviews from critics. The subject is a true story about how during the Iran hostage crisis, a CIA agent got the ball rolling on a fake film production that saved the lives of several people trapped in that country. The movie is directed by and stars Ben Affleck.

But there is a huge problem, one that should not be happening in this day and age: Affleck is white. The real life man he is playing, Tony Mendez, is not.

Ben Affleck in 'Argo'
Ben Affleck in ‘Argo’

When I see the true Mendez, I see someone that looks more like Esai Morales or Edward James Olmos than Affleck. There are plenty of talented Latino actors in Hollywood that could easily have played the role. Yet, once again, Hollywood chose to whitewash the part and add yet another example to its long history of racial discrimination (a UCLA study found that of all leading roles, only 1.2% go to Latino actors).

Yet, not a single review out there has mentioned this. None of them. Not even Roger Ebert, who has brought up such issues for other films. It boggles my mind that any fellow critic with a brain, heart, spine, or conscience would outright ignore this fact.

But what makes this film especially offensive is that it’s based on real events and real people.

I’m reminded of U-571, which presented the Americans as the ones who cracked the Enigma code during World War II. This is a complete lie; the code was actually cracked by the British. Argo apparently does something similar, as it portrays the involvement of the Canadian government in the operation with having less of a role than they really did. A role that was perhaps even more important than the CIA. So credit for an incredible heroic feat by a Latino man and the Canadians is now given to white Americans.

So how should a critic judge this film? Do these factual distortions taint everything else about the movie?

Yes.

If I were to review Argo, it would receive an automatic 1. Racism like this is not tolerable whatsoever, and those who perpetrate it need to be reviled.

Think of it this way: do we judge books by the grammar or the actual words? Does it matter to us if something like Mein Kampf is well-constructed grammatically and features an extensive vocabulary? That The Turner Diaries has a well-crafted plot?

The bad these works do far outweigh any redeeming qualities. In fact, it makes those qualities impossible to value. Who’s really going to enjoy the descriptive language in a passage that promotes racial genocide?

Ben Affleck behind the camera on the set of 'Argo'
Ben Affleck behind the camera on the set of ‘Argo’

So now let’s transfer this over to film.   The heyday of obvious propaganda may be behind us, but films that serve as propaganda still get made, and that is precisely what Argo has become. By striping away the true identities of those involved, the movie only serves to foster racist attitudes, undermine Canadian valor, and could go so far as goad Americans into supporting yet another war with a Middle Eastern country.

People will see this film and believe it, and in many cases, remain ignorant of its distortions and lies.

Think about it, what sticks with an audience the most after they leave the theater? Do they discuss the acting and camera tricks? Probably only if they are very incompetent. What sticks is the overall message. And what you think about that message is what you take away from the whole thing.

Social justice is of a much higher importance than amusement. No matter how large the amount of the latter there may be, it means nothing if it’s in something that contributes to this world’s evil. When themes of morality and decency are present, then the factors that provide the entertainment can truly be appreciated.

About And Palladino 29 Articles
And Palladino is a graduate of Connecticut College with a BA in film studies. He has been writing about films since the age of 14 when he first started contributing to the Home News Tribune newspaper in New Jersey. You may have seen him buying drugs on Person of Interest or in The Wolf of Wall Street around the office, and will be in the upcoming films Noah and A Little Game. He has also worked on the documentary for the band Leftover Crack, and wrote the short story e-book Ernie's Journey, which can be downloaded for free from the iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or smashwords.com.

31 Comments on ‘Argo’ fosters Hollywood’s racism by casting Ben Affleck as Latino

  1. Piss off, you Liberal morons; most of you probably aren’t even old enough to remember the truth as it unfolded. I am.
    Dipsticks.
    If Iran is such an enlightened culture, why haven’t they gotten their shit together after 35 years? You people embarrass me. Disgusting.

  2. Which it would still have because he’s director. Plus there were dozens of characters in it he could have played.

  3. Lincoln is a white guy played by a white guy. That film did have its share of untruths but racebending was not one of them.

  4. So does Barack Obama and he grew up with white relatives. Is it perfectly fine for a white actor to play him? How about Sally Hemmings? Bob Marley? Bruce Lee?

    Race is not genetics or name, it is a social construct based on appearance. Mendex is not white and this is what made him so effective in his CIA career. Ben Affleck cannot pass as a native of India. Mendez did.

    Also his mother was Italian, who still aren’t considered white by many people.

    • Well in my opinion Obama is a good actor himself. I’ve seen his work within the last years as a president lol. However, Ben Afleck really did not need the role
      he is pretty much financially secure. How about an actor who really needed the
      job who has the same or even better talent to have played that role. There are
      well known Latino actors who could have done just as well and would show the public how well a Latino artist can be or even a new actor on the horizon. We need to see more of our Latino actors working and not discriminated anymore or
      take Latino writer’s material and hand it over to a non Hspanic actor. Truly a slap in the face. Enough of the “Maria’s”, maids, and other stereo typecasting. Where is the “change” Latino’s are the most artistic individuals on the earth if they would be given the opportunity and freedom to do so and not be place in low level jobs because they aren’t given a chance to exercise who they truly can be.

  5. This is so weird. The real Mendez is only half Latino. His mother is completely white European . He lost his father at a young age so he grew up with his mother’s side of family and doesn’t identify with the Latino culture. Just because of his last name, it’s racist to have a white actor play him? What about the other half of his heritage? I think people should be conscious about racism in social media but I can’t help but feel that this outrage is fueled by a lot of the racist minds to begin with. Wanting more acting opportunities for Latino community is a separate issuer than calling someone a racist because he casted a white person to play someone who is only half white.

  6. You say that but it is this(your) common closed minded thought that has robbed Hispanics from there whiteness/blackness or native american backgrounds. Hispanics come in all colors but it is your train of thought that tries to lump all hispanics together like a color, when Hispanic share a beautiful culture that combines all races.Many young photos of Mr. Mendez, he looks like any other American, you hear name Mendez and pigeon hole him in a look you believe as Mexican American. He could easily pass for Italian, Greek,Middle Eastern as well as White Hispanic.

  7. Interesting that everyone is upset by Benn Affleck playing Tony Mendez,but no one seems to care that Daniel Day-Lewis plays the greatest American president.
    If you are going to insist on being purists, please be consistent. Have an American from Kentucky play Lincoln.Or let’s just have the best possible actor play the role and acknowledge that Hollywood movies are entertainment that exists to make money.

  8. I’m with Agnes Nutter: the author of this article gets it right. And I can tell you most Canadians are completely pissed off about it. Yes. We get it. It’s a movie. It’s not a documentary. It’s allowed to be fictitious. But Affleck’s revisionism is pure insult. Where do I start? Typically, it’s not the Canadians of course but the Americans with the balls and the bravura who save the day while the Canadians stereotypically (ambassador and his wife )are portrayed as passive and acquiescing. Fact: the escape was devised by the Canadian Embassy. Fact: The Canadian ambassador bought the tickets on 3 different airlines. Fact: the Canadian ambassador drove the Americans to the airport, and risked his life while saving theirs. Fact: the Canadians trained the hostages how to act and sound like Canadians (add up?). The Canadians played the MAJOR role in protecting then spiriting the American hostages out of Iran, which we did out of honor and friendship with America. And then the film has the effing gall to present the story like the CIA came up with the idea and gave Canada marching orders. Note the line in the film where the CIA staff member says “we’ll ‘get’ Canada to issue them Canadian passports”. Get? Get?? The US didn’t GET Canada to do F all. Nor can/could it. Canada did/does what the F it wants. What are we? Poland under Russia during Communism? It’s so condescending as to be laughable if it weren’t so insolent and insulting. Again: it’s a movie. It’s drama. And above all its Hollywood. But The film self-aggrandizes America at the expense of the country who demonstrated the very courage, assertiveness and valor they claim as their own. Thanks a lot. Argofuckyouself, Affleck.

  9. As much as I enjoyed the film’s production (and particularly for introducing me to this lil footnote of history at all), I understand why you’ve made these complaints. It’s perfectly legitimate to criticize the film for its racial undertones and undermining of the Canadian effort. It seems Hollywood still cares more about the money and ‘bigness’ of the showing rather than how the media affects the public at large and underscores other races in favor of Caucasians. Needless to say, I found it pretty disappointing after leaving the film to realize that the real people like Tony Mendez were white washed just for the show of ‘looking good’ or ‘hot’. That was my biggest complaint with a movie that came out a few years ago, ‘the Last Airbender’, mainly as the show attempted to positively portray other ethnicities and cultures, only to effectively paint the heroes white and villains dark. People need to understand that the media matters, and what impression the media leaves matters.

  10. NONSENSE He ain’t no ‘indio’ ‘prieto’ or ‘negro’ back in latin america he would be considered white!

    Besides your ‘issue’ is mute since the person in question is totally fine with it and is thrilled that Ben Affleck is playing him!xP You can see the pictures of him at the premieres in support! Also Tony Mendez’s wife said she would have casted (the young) Tommy Lee Jones to play her husband! IN YOUR FACE!!!

    Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/reliable-source/post/tony-mendez-the-cia-agent-behind-the-real-argo/2012/10/11/37bb2b0a-13f4-11e2-ba83-a7a396e6b2a7_blog.html

    • Who would be considered white, the real Mendez? NONSENSE. You do see the pictures above, correct?

      Him being ok with the whitewashing (likely the result of being paid millions) is absolutely irrelevant. We saw the same thing with 21. Guess what? It was still racist. This an issue much bigger than you realize.

      And as for your response to my previous comment, I suggest you re-read because you clearly have no understanding of what I’m saying. Asswipe.

    • do you mean “moot” point? Internalized racism means that people of color also internalize racist images. Tony is of the era where there were few Latinos playing positive roles. He probably grew up, as did my parents, referring to themselves as just “American” because of social, political and economic pressure to assimilate.

  11. This review is embarrasing. Did you know that the real Tony Mendez disguised himself as an Irish producer when he carried out the operation? As a latin person myself, I find this extremely overblown, and you will only make people get angry for no reason. Why should we feel offended, are you kidding? this is a great film and Ben Affleck at least brought some attention to the story and to Mendez with his movie.

    • No, what’s embarrassing is how blind you are to the writing on the wall. Don’t you get it? To Hollywood, you’re the drug dealer, the maid, the illegal immigrant. You are never the hero, never an actual human being. Here’s someone who is a real person and far from a degrading stereotype, and look what happens. And this is not the first time.

      If the author is making people angry, then GOOD. They should be angry and they should be taking action against prejudice and discrimination.

      • Yes, Sherman it is embarrassing how blind some people are. They suffer from internalized racism. Tony Mendez is Mexican-American, but a Mexican-American man cannot be portrayed as an American hero. Oh, no no no.It might create cognitive dissonace!

        Of course when Hollywood wants to cast a maid or a criminal, they immeditaely cast a Mexican actor to play the role. The late Lupe Ontiveros said that she was cast as a maid 150 times.

        They are making a movie about Cesar Chavez, and they have cast Rosario Dawson to play Dolores Huerta. Yes, this is a sad joke, and sad commentary on how little Hollywood thinks of us and our history. They’re more meticulous with the costumes in Downton Abbey that they are with our history. I will never see that movie.

        Until Mexican-Americans speak up, and stop automatically giving money to Hollywood, nothing will change. The issue here isn’t roles for Latinos, but roles for Mexican-Americans.

    • @Sherman All I can say to you is that Latin-America is racially diverse with different social class and backgrounds. When Ben said “I’m Tony Mendez” and that he was secret agent it was totally awesome; obviously Mr. Mendez is not part of the racial/social class that makes up the “drug dealer, the maid, the illegal immigrant” asswipe

      • We’re not talking about all of Latin America. We’re talking about Tony Mendez, an American of Mexican descent. Hollywood profits from Mexican-American stories and history and the millions of dollars we spend in movie tickets, but they erase us from our own stories.

        They also did this in the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” Alicia Nash in real life was from El Salvador and a math student at MIT. Instead they changed Nash’s ethnicity to Irish, and cast Jennifer Connelly. They even added a line about her “Irish temper.”

  12. Thanks for writing about this. Oddly enough the person who brought this to my attention was Edward James Olmos himself! We were discussing the movie and he expressed disappointment that a wonderful opportunity for a Latino actor was missed. I wasn’t aware of the “whitewash” until he brought it up and I think most people won’t be, primarily because, as you stated, Affleck conveniently leaves out the comparison image of him and the real Mendez during the closing credits.

    That omission is the thing that bothers me most, since it’s essentially proof that Affleck is trying to keep that aspect of the movie as quiet as possible.

    Truth be told, I can’t entirely fault Affleck for casting himself as the lead; he had a passion for the story, did much of the research himself and did everything in his power to get the movie made (not such an easy feat in a town that has very little interest in making anything other than action blockbusters anymore). I think anybody in that position would have wanted the role for himself.

    In addition, it’s very possible that the studio insisted he (or at least another big name actor) play the lead to insure some box office and public interest. I don’t care who’s writing or directing it, there is no way a studio would invest in a movie like this unless it has at least one bankable star.

    So Affleck either had to play the role himself (which I’m sure was the studio’s preference) or cast a other top name in the role.

    Quick, name me at least two Latino actors in their 30s or early 40s that guarantee box office!

    Not so easy, is it?

    So from that standpoint I can’t entirely fault Affleck for playing the Mendez role himself – I just wish he hadn’t tried to hide the disparity during the credits.

    Oh, and as far as the Canadians go, I don’t know what extra involvement they had but I absolutely felt the importance of their role during and after the movie. From a purely dramatic standpoint, I think the film conveyed rather well that the Taylors were risking just as much – or more – than Mendez and were very much heroes of the day. I don’t see how you can say the film was trying to give credit for the Canadian bravery to the Americans!

  13. Although I disagree that you that Ben Affleck playing a Latino totally overshadows the quality of the work, I am completely in agreement that this is an issue and here are the reasons why:
    1. If you look at every single character in the film they resemble their real life counterparts down to the facial hair, stature and eyeglass, except Antonio Mendez.
    2. There is great detail in the set design, costume design and color grading of the film. So obviously it was important to get details as close to accurate as possible, except when it came to Antonio Mendez.
    3. Hollywood has a history of using white actors to portray persons of color but seems to have a problem with persons of color portraying white people.
    4. The whole idea of the film is CIA used a fake film crew to get 6 embassy workers out of Iran, but using a Hispanic lead, nobody will go far that, THAT’S going too far.

    And for the person that said that Mendez looks like a European Spaniard, my guess is that you’re looking at recent pictures of htm, look at old pictures of him with dark hair and stocky build and you might have a different take.

    • people of color have been whitewashed throughout the history of film. so the few stars of color there are ( ex. denzel and morgan) are just a small give back for years of lies in film. if you were a conscientious person of color you might realize what all the discussion is about. the playing field was never fair in hollywood even to this day..

  14. How is Mendez a “latino”? Looks like a white European Spaniard to me. Besides, Affleck can do whatever he wants in his own movie.

    • I thought the exact same thing…. Spanish surnames can often be EUROPEAN which is WHITE. And Tony Mendez does not look latino.. looks Spaniard from Europe.

      • But he’s Mexican-American from Nevada. There are Mexican-Americans who look like Tony Mendez, and one of them could have been hired to play this role. Funny, if he robbed a bank nobody would call him white.

  15. This review is a little overblown, no? I haven’t seen the movie and I can see that affleck’s character still has a Latin name- hence is probably of Latino descent I’m guessing.
    Sure non whites have been white washed out of popular culture but to make the analogy to the dubious history of “u 571” seems nuts.
    Yes, ‘Murica didn’t crack the enigma code, the British did ( with help from pre invasion Poland)- it was a bad film. Any student of ww2 knew it was crap.
    Is having having affleck find someone more Latino/Latino really necessary? How Latino do they have to be, and by whose criteria? . It wasn’t like he was writing this hero out of the film. Edward James olmos? Great actor, old man.
    As far as the Canadians (I live here), I haven’t seen tons of outrage about Canada’s role (diminished or otherwise) in the film.
    Also as someone of mixed race background I find it hard get worked up by these topics- especially concerning invoking the topics of Mein kampf and genocide.

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