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John Leguizamo is opening up about his experience breaking into the industry as a Latino performer.
In a new interview for the Academy Awards' Seen series, the Encanto star, 57, admitted that he "stayed out of the sun" so he could land roles.
"I definitely would not go in the sun for years. It was a conscious thing because I could work," Leguizamo said.
He continued, "And all the Latinos that made it so far, a lot of them were all light-skinned. What happened to all the Afro-Latinos and the majority of indigenous Latinos? They don't get a shot, you know. So, there's a lot of things we got to deal with in Hollywood, and we got to fix, and we got to speak out and we got to speak up."
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The Colombian-born actor has previously addressed the racial injustices toward Latinx performers in Hollywood, and even boycotted the 2020 Emmys for snubbing the community.
While speaking to the Academy, he again highlighted the lack of representation in the industry and the overwhelmingly negative portrayals of Latinos onscreen.
"How do you create a Latin star in America when the roles are one-dimensional and not worthy of awards?" the When They See Us star asked. "The ugly question is, why are Latin people not succeeding? What's the ugly question? Are we not smart enough? Not talented enough? Not good-looking enough? Not hardworking enough? No, none of those stereotypes and racist ideas because nobody tries harder with less access."
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"So not only are we invisible, but when we are seen, it's a negative portrayal," he continued. "Things are improving. I think COVID made us really look at ourselves in America. Black Lives Matter was a huge awakening for America, a reboot for America to look at themselves and see what's going on. I think everybody's trying to do the right thing and hire many more people of color. What I want to see, I want to see 20 percent of the roles in front of the camera and the crew. I'm not asking for extra. I just want what's due to us."
Leguizamo, who acknowledged that he "benefited from being light-skinned" in the industry, also recalled being told by studio executives, "Latin people don't want to see Latin people."
And when he directed and starred in 2020's Critical Thinking — based on the true story of a Miami high school chess team that became the first inner city team to win the U.S. National Chess Championship — someone told him, "Latin people don't want to see feel-good movies."
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"There is an audience and a hunger. So, I know that exists regardless of what a studio head or network says to me anymore," Leguizamo said.
One way the actor hopes to enact change is by running for governor of the Academy. "You have to step up and make a change and change it from within," he said. "I feel like if you've achieved a certain amount of success, it's your duty to give back."
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"I don't want any kid to go through what I went through. I don't want any Latin kid to go through what I went through. I don't want any white kid, Black kid, Asian kid [to go through what I went through]," he continued.
"There's so much great talent out there. I want to be that studio exec that gets their material and their product green-lit."
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