Catherine Zeta-Jones has sparked a bit of controversy with one of her most recent film roles. The actor has been chosen to play a Latina character in an upcoming Lifetime biopic, despite the fact that she's not Latina at all. As of now, Catherine Zeta-Jones responded to the whitewashing backlash by defending her role, according to Huffington Post. (Bustle reached out to Lifetime for comment on this backlash, but did not receive an immediate response.)
The actor stars in a new Lifetime original film, Cocaine Godmother: The Griselda Blanco Story, which tells the story of Griselda Blanco Restrepo, a notorious Colombian drug lord and pioneer of the Miami-based cocaine trade. Blanco, also known as La Madrina or The Black Widow, was allegedly linked to nearly 200 drug-related murders throughout the '70s and '80s before her assassination in Colombia in 2012.
Zeta-Jones has since been the subject of criticism over the role's whitewashing, though she recently defended her decision to portray Blanco during an interview with Entertainment Weekly. She said,
"This is just the way I see it, and people can take what they want from it: I am a Welsh actress, who doesn’t happen to look like what you think someone from Wales would look like. I have my own language; I speak Welsh. And so, for me to wait for a role that is fit for the way I look physically, that is not a Welsh role, where I don’t use my accent ― I never use my accent. Have you ever heard me use my accent that I’m speaking with right now?"
Zeta-Jones later pointed out that Blanco is not the first Latina character she's portrayed, not that that makes anything any better. "This happens to be the third Hispanic I’ve played," she said. "I played the lead in Zorro, and I screen-tested with six Hispanic women, and I got the role. I don’t know what to say. And I was a complete unknown at this point; it wasn’t because I had a name or box-office value. Four of the actresses are my contemporaries to this day."
She also played "a woman of Spanish decent" in the 2000 film Traffic. Naturally, Zeta-Jones' decision to play Blanco is receiving a range of responses on social media.
Some users believe that the whitewashing of this role does nothing to help the problem with Hollywood's frustrating lack of diversity.
Others agree that there are numerous Latina actors who would have been better choices for the role than Zeta-Jones. (Note: Though most tweets have mentioned that actors like Penélope Cruz and Salma Hayek would have been fine choices for the film, that's also part of the issue. Cruz and Hayek aren't the only two talented Latina actors in existence, and the role easily could've been given to a lesser known star.)
And some are simply not buying the 48-year-old actor's response to the criticism.
Meanwhile, there are even some users who are freaking out over the fact that they're just now finding out that the actor isn't Latina.
But there are others who have been quick to point out that Zeta-Jones deserves respect regardless, because of how talented she is. One user tweeted, "Catherine Zeta-Jones is a incredible woman who overcame bipolar disorder & depression not to mention she’s been studying theatre since she was 6 years old. Leave her the f*ck alone."
While the people defending Zeta-Jones are right in describing how talented she is, that's beside the point here. No one is denying her ability to flawlessly execute a role — everybody knows she's talented, as she has multiple awards and honors to show for it. But Zeta-Jones' critical acclaim doesn't excuse her from any criticism, and it doesn't necessarily make it any less wrong for her to be portraying a Latina on screen when she's not actually Latina — especially when we consider the number of talented Latina actors who could have played this part just as well. It's all essentially a part of the larger problem that is Hollywood's nasty habit of casting white actors in non-white roles.
Though there's so much to love about Zeta-Jones and all of her work, that doesn't mean that Hollywood's diversity problem isn't worth further discussing.