Lenny

What’s wrong with Showtime Dexter’s Cubans?

Depending on who “fits” the cultural/ethnic/racial/political label created in the 1970s, Hispanics or Latinos can come from ancestries from around 20 or so Spanish-speaking nations in the Americas. I think that Europe’s Portugal and Spain were also once in that group but are certainly no longer there, especially in the “Latino” label.

20 or so very diverse and distinct nations.

Disclaimers: I do realize that this coming issue of mine is perhaps a very jingoist issue, and I am also keenly aware that I’ve written about it before in a smilar context but in for a different scenario. And yet the more that we become aware how culturally blind Hollywood is, the more they underscore their own cultural ignorance with minute mistakes that keep adding up to colossal mountains.

Last year I complained when Jimmy Smits, a superb actor on his own, was chosen to play the lead part in the CBS drama “Cane”, a series about a wealthy Cuban-American family.

My historical issue was that although Jimmy Smits is a great actor, he was not what your typical Cuban sugar magnate would have looked liked in the racist Cuban society of the late 1950s and the Cuban-American refugee wave of the early 1960s. His casting for the part was intolerably historically inaccurate.

CBS picked Smits, a brilliant actor, I guess based on their perception of what a Cuban looks like (Smits is not of Cuban ancestry… his father, Cornelis Smits, was a Surinamese immigrant from Dutch Guiana, and his mother, Emilina, is Puerto Rican).

This is what the person that Smits’ “Canes” character was loosely based upon really looks like

But I suspect that because, like a lot of Cubans, he looks too “Anglo” and not enough of what Hollywood (and CBS) wanted all of us to think that Latinos should all look like, they hired a terrific Emmy-winning Surinamese actor who fits the sterotypical image of what Hollywood thinks Cubans should look like, to play the lead part.

Latinos are a culturally, racially and ethnically diverse group of people, and we’re not all made of one mold, as Hollywood wants you to think.

So that was then, and here’s what has me all spun up in a new tempest in my demitasse.

Currently my absolute favorite TV show is Showtime’s “Dexter.”

If you haven’t seen this show, then go and rent seasons one and two out on DVD and then get hooked.

In the series, Michael C. Hall is absolutely brilliant as a serial killer who works as a blood expert for the Miami Metro Police while hiding the fact that he is also a serial killer. Dexter goes after bad guys, but he is still a truly disturbing psychopath pretending to be normal while killing bad guys left and right in a very orchestrated manner.

Dexter is television crime drama at its best. It is a brilliantly conceptual idea brought to life by really good actors and the gorgeous setting of Miami.

And because this show is set in Miami, several of the regular characters in the series are portrayed as Cuban characters, such as Dexter’s boss, Lt. Maria LaGuerta, played superbly by Puerto Rican actress Lauren Velez and detective Angel Batista, also played superbly by Puerto Rican actor David Zayas.

Now enter season three, which introduced a new character, that of Asst. District Attorney Miguel Prado, another Cuban character played by, yep that’s right: Jimmy Smits!

Smits is a terrific actor, and since by now he seems to be making quite a decent living playing Cubans on TV, the least that Showtime can do is hire some Cubans to write their Spanish dialogues for the series so that at least he can sound Cuban.

I know that this is pedantic, but everytime that Smits or the other “Cuban” characters speak to each other in Spanish banter, it is grating to Cuban ears to hear “non Cuban” Spanish being spoken.

Imagine that you are watching a foreign movie, let’s say that it is a French movie… and all the dialogue is in French, and in the film there are two British actors who are playing American parts, and every few minutes they speak to each other in English, and instead of American English coming out of their mouths, what comes out is cockney English.

That’s what (in my pedantic world of Virgos) I have to suffer everytime that LaGuerta, Batista and/or Miguel Prado talk in Spanish.

The straw that broke the camel’s back a few episodes ago was when Miguel Prado (Smits) jokingly called Dexter a “filipolla” (or “gilipolla”).

That’s when I realized that the writer that Showtime has hired to write the Spanish for the series, not only has no idea about what Cuban Spanish sounds like, but also zero idea of what Latin American Spanish sounds like, as opposed to Castilian Spanish.

Having lived in Spain for a few years in my 20s, I know what that word means, which is essentially a curse word used by Spaniards; let me repeat that: Spaniards, to mean asshole or jerk, etc.

I am almost 99% sure that no Cuban in Miami or Cuba or anywhere else in the Great Cuban Diaspora, has ever called anyone a gilipolla, unless perhaps they live in Spain and have picked up the term there… from Spaniards.

But in Miami? Naaaaaaaaaaaah…

A Cuban would have said “Maricon” or perhaps “Cabron.” But fili/gilipolla? Nunca!

Now imagine those two Brit actors playing Yanks in my earlier French movie example, calling each other “gits” or “wankers.”

Welcome to my pedantic hell.

And now for Showtime: My list of actor candidates who are actually of Cuban ancestry and thus a shoe-in for the part and who actually speak Spanish with a Cuban accent:

Andy Garcia (duh!!!! perfect for the part!… but probably too classy and too expensive to do TV).

Nestor Carbonell. He was great in “Canes” and also in “Lost City,” although I think that he wears eye make up?

Mel Ferrer… ah!… I think he’s dead.

Desi Arnaz… fine, fine… he’s definately dead; but how about Desi Jr.?????

Jorge Perrugorria

Cesar Romero … fine! I know that The Joker is definately dead.

Julio Mechoso

Ruben Rabasa

Victor Rivers

George Alvarez

Showtime: call me.

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14 Comments »

  1. December 3, 2008 @ 12:42 am

    Mary Said,

    Well, as a white midwestern girl from Chicago, I can tell you that I can’t tell the difference but you do have a point. I feel the same way when an Australian plays an American and can’t manage a New York or midwest accent. And to your point, these people are also excellent actors, but if there’s no authenticity in the accent or dialect, it’s extremely distracting to those of us that know the difference.

  2. December 11, 2008 @ 5:55 am

    jeorgebush Said,

    Nice post. I agree 100%. here’s some more info on watch dexter tvshow online

  3. January 24, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

    Joanne Mattera Art Blog Said,

    Lenny,

    Now let’s make the lawyers female. Who should get the parts?

    PS. I bet it’s difficult living inside your head.

  4. February 7, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

    Lenny Said,

    Hi Joanne,

    Yep!

    Especially when one enters that section of my brain reserved for pet peeves!

    Lenny

  5. July 21, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

    tim Said,

    Lenny,
    Jimmy Smits constantly says “cunyo” or “cunjo”, pronounced “coon-yo”, on Dexter….what does this mean?
    Tim
    please email me if you know.
    Gracias!

  6. October 11, 2009 @ 7:25 pm

    Anonymous actress Said,

    As an actress, and the daughter of an actor, I understand you completely. I am a “Juban”… I am sure you know what that is. It is very difficult for my father to find roles. They have to be specific for his type. He is an excellent actor, but he looks “caucasian” or “jewish”, but… since he was born in Cuba he has an accent when speaking English. I am fighting hard for the cause of Cubans being portrayed as they really are on film and TV. I am working on trying to get my father onto Dexter (one of my fav shows) aside from the NO CUBANS IN MIAMI problem that they have!! :) I am very proud of my roots, but for the most part people don’t know where I am from. I have fair skin and dark hair and very jewish features. As for the actors, I am very close friends with Julio Mechoso and Ruben Rabasa. But apparently we are all “too white” to play roles that represent our ethnicity, but someday I will! :)

  7. October 21, 2009 @ 1:12 pm

    Lenny Said,

    Dear actress,

    Tks for the great comments… and it would be great if your Dad could not only get a part in Dexter, but how about him playing his real life part as a Cuban Jew?

    :-) Lenny

  8. October 21, 2009 @ 1:13 pm

    Lenny Said,

    Cono (with an enye or the tilde over the “n”) is an unique Cuban swear word that defies translation. It can be “damn” or “wow” or “shit” or a variety of swear situations depending on the situation itself….

  9. December 14, 2009 @ 6:00 am

    lance Said,

    Lenny is exactly right about the writing on the showtime show Dexter. Having lived my first twenty five years in Miami and now in a place where the only spanish speakers are Mexican. The main differences are the abundance of native american terms (azteca) and slowness of speech delivery. Likewise; new yorkers speak much faster than californians. As far as casting yes more Andy!!

  10. December 21, 2009 @ 4:09 pm

    Lily Said,

    Lenny,
    you are so right! I was born in Cuba and get so irritated when they cast anyone other than a Cuban to play a Cuban part. Remember Scarface? Now, i believe you can agree that Al Pacino is an exception, but ther rest of the non-cubans were dissapointing. BTW, Dexter is an awesome show. MY FAV!!

  11. March 30, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

    Karen Camacho - Rudolph Said,

    Lenny.. I’m into season 3 of Dexter. I’m looking at it from my Puerto Rican but born in Coral Gables perspective. I’m a Jurican by the way. Just like Geraldo but smarter.. . Why couldn’t the PR actors play PR cop’s? Miami had a PR Mayor a PR Schools Superintendent and plenty of PR Police..But I agree with your take. There is no shortage of good Cuban or Puerto Rican actors ( other Latins as well ) to play a mix of roles.
    My husband is a retired Detective Captain and he roars with delight and says the interaction is right on , especially with ” Det Sgt “Angel “

  12. August 16, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

    Z Said,

    I am going through the Dexter shows and I am really enjoying it. I did a websearch trying to find the meaning of the word “coño.” I thought you might be interested in how to type that character and I found a section describing that on this page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%91

    Thanks for the information!

  13. September 19, 2010 @ 8:34 pm

    kevin Said,

    I was struck by that Dexter dialog, too. “coño” and “gilipollas” are extremely common in Spain in informal speech, but I have never heard either in Mexican spanish. I imagine “coño” is understood, but is thought to be too strong and coarse a word for common use. Whereas in Spain it is used by grandmothers… But of course cuban spanish is not mexican spanish, and I really have no idea what vocabulary cubans use, barring a general idea that like other caribbean spanish speakers they tend to drop the terminal consonants (which the characters don´t do)

    But there is nothing unusual in this lack of fidelity, if you know the subject matter or place or cultural milieu treated by a film or TV drama they usually take liberties and don´t bother to get stuff right that they think people won´t notice…

  14. December 29, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

    Indio Bravo Said,

    Lenny:

    I reached your blog after noticing the same concern about the accents. I didn’t have to search the bios of the actors that portrayed cuban characters to notice that all of them were newyorricans. I guess Showtime knows that only cubans and puertorricans (like me) will notice it.

    About the words, “coño” is commonly used in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain, New York, and probably in other countries too. But “gilipollas”, ¡coño! the screenwriter should be more careful! And I think the actors can also express their concern about this mistake.

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