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Looking At The Inspiring Latino Hispanic Figure Film Studies Essay

He is one of the most inspiring Latino/Hispanic figure both in acting and activist in the United States and around Hispanic/Latino Nations. He did great performances that have earned him many awards, an Emmy award for Miami Vice as Lieutenant Martin Castillo, two Golden Globes awards for Miami Vice and The Burning Season, Tony Award for Zoot Suit as El Pachuco. He also got Oscar nominations for Stand and Deliver, American Me, My Familia/Mi Familia. On a 2001 poll conducted by Hispanic Trends, Latino’s and Latina’s around the world ranked Edward James Olmos the biggest influence on the community than any Latino/a presidential cabinet members. He is a passionate activist, he uses his star status but not too much to advocate on world issues targeting the Latino/a community.

Edward James Olmos was on February 24, 1947 in Boyle Heights, a poor, working-class barrio of East Los Angeles. His mother named Eleanor Huizar, who is a third generation Mexican American, and later met Edward’s father Pedro Olmos, on a visit to Mexico. But the later two divorced when Edward was eight, both parents were able to share the important parts of his life growing up. He always wanted to be a professional baseball player but later in his teen years, he changed into rock and roll, and he became the lead singer of his band named Pacific Ocean because it’s “the biggest thing on the West Coast”. He graduated from Montebello High School in 1964. After high school, he attended classes at East Los Angeles College, and he classes include in acting.

When Olmos took acting lessons, he wanted to improve his onstage performances as a singer but later found that the stage was his future career. His first big break role was in Zoot Suit, a musical drama based on the 1942 “Sleepy Lagoon” case which involves a group of Los Angeles Chicano youth that were framed for murder but they did not receive equal rights as the white men. Olmos role was the El Pachuco which is the “embodiment of a mythical Chicano rebel,” as the Chicano writer and producer Luis Valdez stated. Olmos performance impressed critics and audiences. It was only made for a play, later a Broadway, and then landed on a film as the first Chicano/a feature length studio production, financed by Universal.

In the 1980s, Olmos's career began to take off. He took the role in the cult classic Blade Runner. There he co-star with Harrison Ford to track the replicants who are visually indistinguishable from adult humans and retired them if they are in Earth. It wasn’t a box office hit, but it did receive strong fan base and it became a cult classic and was on the list for the greatest films in 100 years list. Olmos played the detective of Gaff, he used his diverse ethnic background, and some in-depth personal research, to help create the fictional "Cityspeak" language his character uses in the film.

Carefully choosing and crafting his roles, Olmos found ways to play Latino characters against stereotype. But Olmos was not content to wait for roles to come to him. In 1983 he founded YOY productions with the director Robert M. Young to make socially conscious films. Young directed Olmos as the lead in The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, a western set in mid-nineteenth-century Texas in the wake of the United States–Mexican War. Gregorio Cortez has shot the sheriff in self-defense and must elude hundreds of bloodthirsty Texas Rangers until being turned in for a reward by a fellow Mexican. Olmos departs from the macho warrior-hero stereotype as he portrays the subversion and strength of one ordinary man caught in that fateful moment when Texan Mexicans lost their nation. Some Chicano and Chicana critics protested the film's foregrounding of an Anglo perspective (the main speaking parts go to an Anglo reporter and Texas Rangers rather than to Gregorio and his family) and its “colonial overtones.” Yet this sophisticated and stylistically rich film succeeds in being one of the first westerns to critique and question rather than glorify westward expansion. Unfolding as different witnesses recount the same set of events with completely different perspectives, the film addresses the very question of historical truth in the context of the deeply radicalized collective stories of the past.

In 1984, he took a role that made him into a household name when he accepted the role in Miami Vice as part of Latino police detective Martin Castillo. Olmos only accepted the part as long he follows his own conditions that he wanted to maintain full creative control of his character. Miami Vice became a cult classic series that ran for four years, and Olmos’s performance landed him both the Emmy and a Golden Globe Award.

His Academy Award nomination for best actor in 1988 was his great performance as the East Los Angeles calculus teacher in Stand and Deliver with co-star Lou Diamond Philips. Olmos’s performance was so impressive, he close to identical as the real Jaime Escalante. Olmos was all paunch-bellied and buck-toothed with thinning hair combed over his bald spot. His charisma helped him to control his underprivileged barrio kids. He help his students to overcome their ability to pass their Advance Placement Calculus Test, but later to be accused of cheating on the same wrong question that all students had. All the kids were disqualified by the School Board, but Escalante was able to convince them to retake the test, and once again all the students passed with higher scores than last time. After his nomination, Olmos was on the cover of Time magazine, and Time writer Guy Garcia called him “not only possibly the best Hispanic American actor of his generation, but one of the best performers working today.”

In 1992, Olmos’s directorial debut came with American Me. The budget was on $20 million, and at that time to present, it was one of the most expensive studio productions by a Chicano filmmaker. Olmos was the director, producer, and starred in his own film. It was based on the life of a Chicano gang leader who died in prison in 1972. Olmos plays as the Chicano drug leader and prison lord Santana, his personality was really bad; merciless, spine-chilling cruelty. Santana was self-hatred and destruction anti-hero who brought the audiences to be very cautious of this gang and prison life tale.

American Me spread awareness to the Chicano/a’s youth about living under grinding poverty, racism, and the lack of opportunity who internalize their oppression. It a hopeful message to the youth that we have the choice of to not pull the trigger that will put ourselves in our hole. They have the power to stop the violence. Olmos explains the reason he made American Me that he wanted to reach young people and warn them to be away from the gangs. A lifelong mission he has embraced and fighting for, but it was only in his films, it was in his pubic motivational speeches he gives each year in juvenile halls, schools and prisons. He stated, “Basically, I think that there are some characters that you can just allow the truth of your character as a human being in your real life to come through.”

Olmos, whose grandfather published a radical newspaper during the Mexican Revolution, wants a legacy beyond entertainment. He stated, “I would hate to look back on my life and only see myself as a person who made lots of money and was a star and made Rambo and Terminator movies.” He devotes his personal life to public services. He served as a United States Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF.

Olmos was arrested and spent twenty days in prison in 1991 for taking part in protests against the U.S. Navy’s bombing of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. He quoted, “I just don't deal with any government. I don't deal with the United States government. When it comes to understanding humanity, they're the worst.” The reason of this protest was there have been allegations that these military practices on the island cause higher cancer rate and that over 9,000 of the island population were suffering from a range of cancers and other serious illness. In 1999, the death of David Sanes who is a native to the island causes a big uproar and a strong advantage for the protests. President Clinton and later George W. Bush order the navy to leave Vieques by May 2003. Olmos narrated the 1999 film Zapatista, a documentary film that supported Zapatista Army of National Liberation; it is a revolutionary group that has abstained from using their weapons since 1994.

He received the John Anson Ford Award and was honored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of his leadership toward racial unity. Olmos have been helping out during emergency relief efforts for the victims of the 1985 Mexico City Earthquake and the victims of the 1994 Los Angeles Earthquake by raising relief funds.

Olmos was the executive producer of the 1997 documentary It Ain’t Love, which he received the PASS Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. In 1999 he launched a nationwide multimedia project cosponsored by Time Warner, Inc., called Americanos: Latino Life in the United States. This project focuses on the celebration of Latino and Latina culture; it exposes the culture, diversity, and the accomplishments to the world through a five-year traveling photography exhibition.

“We would have nothing without art,” Olmos often says in one of his lectures. As “an individual who makes outstanding contributions to emerging filmmakers,” Olmos has been awarded an Eastman Second Century Award. For years, he has coproduced the Latino Book and Family Festival, and he is the cofounder of the prestigious Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival. Since 1999 Olmos has headed Latino Public Broadcasting, a consortium that allocates funds to Latino and Latina filmmakers for enhancing and enriching diversity on public television across America. He also quoted on this project, “There is no way that we know what is going on between the African American and the Asian American. We don't understand what an Indigenous American is. We don't understand what a Latino American is.”

Later in his career, from 2003-2009, he starred as Admiral William Adama in Battlestar Galactica. One of his greatest acting in his active career since Stand By Me performance. He was named the new science fiction godfather in our generation. He directed four episodes of the show, Tight Me Up, Tight Me Down (Season 1), Taking a Break from All Your Worries (Season 3), Escape Velocity and Islanded in a Steam of Stars (Season 4). Regarding on his work of the show, “I’m very grateful for the work that I’ve been able to do in my life but I can honestly tell you, this is the best usage of television I’ve ever been a part of to date.”

In 1971, Olmos married Katija Keel, the daughter of actor Howard Keel. They had two children, Bodie and Mico, before divorcing in 1992. Olmos also has three adopted children: Michael D., Brandon and Tamiko. He married actress Lorraine Bracco in 1994, but she filed for divorce in January 2002 after five years of separation. He is currently married to Puerto Rican actress Lymari Nadal, 30 years his junior. In 1996, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from California State University, Fresno. In 2007, after a seven-year process, he obtained Mexican nationality. He is one of the most important Chicano figures in our time, the greatest role model that Chicano and Chicana youth could follow. Olmos is an intelligent man, knows what he is talking about and cares about his community so much. In my opinion, he is a true Chicano.

Work Citied Resources

Berg, Charles Ramírez. Latino Images in Film: Stereotypes, Subversion, and Resistance. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Carrillo, Louis. Edward James Olmos. Austin, Tex.: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1997.

Diaz, Katharine A. “Man of Influence: Edward James Olmos Changes Lives through His Actions.” Hispanic Magazine, September 2000.

Fregoso, Rosa Linda. The Bronze Screen: Chicana and Chicano Film Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

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