Memo to Tina Fey: Lou Diamond Phillips, While Excellent, Is Not Latino (an Explainer)

A couple days ago, Billy Eichner posted an “On the Street” in which he asked “LaTina Fey” to name 20 Latino performers in one minute. Not only did she call queen Gina Rodriguez “the woman from Jane the Virgin,” she named Lou Diamond Phillips who, while great, is not Latino.


Here’s a little explainer for Tina Fey and the world, because people always presume that Lou Diamond Phillips is Latino. The reason they do so is because Lou Diamond Phillips, who is Filipino with Scottish, Cherokee, and Chinese ancestry, has played many Latinos on the silver screen, because of Hollywood’s—como se dice—flexible viewpoint when it comes to hiring actors of one race to play another race. Usually this means that Hollywood will hire a white person to play a person of color, such as Russian actor Yul Brynner’s notorious portrayal of the King of Siam in The King & I or, more recently, Johnny Depp portraying Tonto, an offensive caricature of a Native American of unknown origin, in box-office shitshow The Lone Ranger.

Occasionally, though, directors will cast an actor of color to portray another race or ethnicity, and while it says to us that Hollywood finds us all interchangeable, sometimes the race-switching actor in question becomes a beloved symbol of cross-racial conversation in despite of it. This is to say: many Latinos would love to land Lou Diamond Phillips in the Racial Draft. (Perhaps we could trade Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio. Anyone out there want ‘em?) Lou Diamond Phillips, in his career, has not only portrayed one of the first famous and respected Mexican-Americans in broader American history—Ritchie Valens in cinematic great La Bamba, by the sweat of my balls—he has also played Latinos in Stand & Deliver, Young Guns, A Show of Force, Supernova, and various other films, including Filly Brown, with Gina “that woman from Jane the Virgin” Rodriguez. (He has, in addition, been cast in roles of various Native American ethnicities.) George Lopez, when he had a show, gave special daps to Lou Diamond Phillips by casting him in an episode as his half-brother, a special wink to his status as one of the great portrayers of Latinos.


Lou has done us well, and unfortunately Hollywood hasn’t really been leaping at scripts with good Filipino roles, so we welcome him in our zone. That said, it’s really not that cool when white people assume that he is Latino, in part because it reminds us that Hollywood’s been erasing of people of color since its inception, that it is systemic, and also that it worked.

There is also an issue with Hollywood thinking that all Latinos (and basically every other non-white ethnicity) are interchangeable, but sometimes it works out. For instance, when a then-little-known Jennifer Lopez was cast as Selena in the eponymous biopic, there was a small bit of outrage that a Puerto Rican woman would play the beloved Mexican-American Tejano singer. For one, Puerto Rican culture is really fucking different from Mexican culture! But then she nailed it and the Quintanillas were psyched and it all turned out great and J.Lo became an icon to all Latinos, and rainbows of unity burst out of a brown unicorn’s ass.

In short, Lou Diamond Phillips is not Latino; but shout to Lou Diamond Phillips.

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