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'Maiden' Form

July 03, 1994

I know I'll be blasted as "politically correct" and a "reverse racist," but I'm sorry to see "Death and the Maiden" being brought to the screen with a non-Latino cast. This is especially troubling because Chilean author Ariel Dorfman's play is specifically set in Latin America and draws upon that region's recent history.

I'm sure the film's proponents will defend the casting as "color-blind," but if Sigourney Weaver were a recognizable Latina, would she have won her breakthrough role in "Alien"? More than likely, she would be struggling with all the other underemployed Latino actors to play stereotypical bit parts as drug dealers and domestic help. After all, Rita Cansino had to change her name to Hayworth before she could become a movie star.

Granted, Hollywood should be commended for fostering the careers of Raul Julia, Edward James Olmos and Andy Garcia. And I'm glad that the "Death and the Maiden" film is giving a non-white actor like Ben Kingsley another chance to play a role outside his Indian ethnicity. However, the movie industry could still be doing much more to employ the rich but neglected Latino talent all around us.

I could mention that "Like Water for Chocolate" reveled in its Latino origins and was a record-breaking hit, while "The House of the Spirits" whitewashed its Latin American heritage and died at the box office. But I'm sure the film industry would still find a way to rationalize its preferential treatment of white actors.

ROBERT PAYNE

Studio City

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