Why the Whitewashing of Alicia Nash?

Lisa Navarrete is deputy vice president in the office of public information for the National Council of La Raza. She is based in Washington, D.C.

Halle Berry’s historic win eight days ago corrected an unconscionable failure: In the 74-year history of the Academy Awards, no actress of color had ever won for leading actress. There are many reasons and excuses for why this was the case, but clearly one is that for actors to be Oscar contenders, they have to get important roles in films that the motion picture academy is likely to recognize and honor.

The mystery is why that opportunity was not given to the Latino community in the biggest Oscar winner of the night, “A Beautiful Mind.”

In the recent “60 Minutes” interview with Nobel laureate John Forbes Nash Jr. and his wife, Alicia, on the controversy surrounding the film version of their lives, questions centered on allegations of anti-Semitism and his rumored homosexuality. Other questions have been raised about Nash’s past and the film’s accuracy.


But one obvious question that hasn’t been widely raised about the film is this: How did Salvadoran-born Alicia Nash, who articulately defended her husband on “60 Minutes” in accented English, morph into the decidedly non-Latina character portrayed by actress Jennifer Connelly?

In the film, there was nothing that indicated that Alicia Nash was a Latina immigrant, even though it was addressed extensively in the book on which the movie is based. And clearly the filmmakers cared enough about veracity to have Russell Crowe substitute his pronounced Australian accent with a West Virginia one.

This is not to take anything away from Connelly, whose terrific performance deservedly earned her the Academy Award for best supporting actress, among other honors. But whether they even realized they were doing it, director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman wasted a golden opportunity to chip away at the stereotyping of Latinos in Hollywood. This practice has kept our community invisible and powerless in the industry that controls the most powerful media in the world.

Today’s Hollywood is a place where even the most recognized and highly paid Latina actor, Jennifer Lopez, will be playing a maid in her next film. Although many Latinas are maids--an honorable profession--it is easy for filmgoers and television viewers to think it is our only line of work. It seems it is the occupation of choice for Latina characters in films and television.

This is what makes Alicia Nash’s whitewashing so depressing. We could have witnessed the portrayal of a true rarity--a three-dimensional Latina role model--by a well-known, critically acclaimed actress. Even better, this could have provided a career-making opportunity to a Latina actress.

But most of all, this acclaimed movie could have shown the millions who have seen it that this brilliant, accomplished woman who was ahead of her time and virtually superhuman in her loyalty and forbearance, was also a Latina immigrant. It could have shown the world a side of our community rarely seen on the big screen and provided millions of young Latinas with a role model worth emulating.


At the very least, Howard and Goldsman owe the Latino community an explanation, especially given that the subject of Howard’s next film is the battle of the Alamo. Was this change deliberate? Were we supposed to get from the depiction of Alicia Nash in the film that she was a Latina immigrant?

Or, perhaps more troubling, did it not even cross their minds what message they were sending with this omission?

The message back to them has to be clear: This is unacceptable.