Legendary Studios is being criticized for casting Charlie Hunnam as the Texas-born, Mexican-American real-life drug lord Edgar Valdez Villarreal in their film “American Drug Lord” because Hunnam is white, and Villareal is of mixed descent.
The Los Angeles Times headlined its story “Charlie Hunnam as Mexican-American Edgar Valdez Villarreal is what’s wrong with Hollywood” on Monday, before changing its changed their headline by Tuesday to: “Twitter says a white British actor playing a Mexican American is exactly what’s wrong with Hollywood.”
Indeed social media was home base for many of the film’s detractors.
Charlie Hunnam as La Barbie in “American Drug Lord”. Who is gonna play El Chapo? Ben Affleck? https://t.co/0Yckucfxb6
— Maiah Ocando (@MaiahOcando) January 26, 2016
Hollywood’s WHITES ONLY problem: Charlie Hunnam Signs On To Portray Mexican Cartel Kingpin in ‘American Drug Lord’ | https://t.co/pmQg8izaUB
— Lalo Alcaraz (@laloalcaraz) January 24, 2016
The L.A. Times also tied the Hunnam kerfuffle to the current uproar over the Academy Awards’ shutout on actors of color two years straight. But in Hunnam’s case, the real-life Villareal was known as “La Barbie” — The Barbie — specifically because he was blonde haired, green eyed, and had light skin, like a Ken doll.
But “Patient Zero” producer Vincent Newman said the outcry is outrageous.
“It seems not well thought-through to be upset over casting an excellent actor to act as a character with whom he seems to share many physical resemblances,” said Newman. “I suppose those offended by this would have disqualified Al Pacino from acting as Tony Montana or James Caan as Sonny Corleone. It’s acting after all, and the merit of the choice will be assessed as it is with all casting choices, on the quality and believability of his performance.”
Newman’s sentiments are not shared by the Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona, Anna Ochoa O’Leary, Ph.D, who says the casting of a non-Mexican-American is detrimental and disrespectful to the Mexican community and culture.
“This has been happening in Hollywood for ages and it is sad to see that today, in 2016, there has been so little change,” O’Leary said. “During the 1930s during the depression, when Mexicans were being scapegoated for America’s woes, the excuse that there was no Latino talent was used to substitute American/Anglo actors in roles that should have been given to Mexican Americans. Famous Mexican actresses working in Hollywood — Lupe Velez, Dolores del Rio — were only being offered roles as prostitutes and decided to leave. The good roles were then just given to non-Latino actors and actresses. This slight has been around for many years.”
O’Leary claims that by casting British-born Hunnam, “the assumption is that there are no fair skinned Mexicans when Mexicans come in all shapes and sizes and shades and phenotypes, and it is an example of the racism that operates in the entertainment industry, even while they profess to be socially liberal and politically progressive.”
Dr. Montana Miller, Associate Professor at the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University agrees that Hollywood needs to be more diversified and encourages public discourse about the issue.
“I think it’s encouraging that people are speaking out against this kind of casting, and the more people voice their objections the less likely it will continue to be such an unspoken but normalized trend in Hollywood,” Miller said.
FOX411 reached out to Charlie Hunnam and Legendary Studios but did not receive comment.
Diana Falzone is a FoxNews.com reporter. You can follow her on Twitter @dianafalzone.