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Successful Latinos share stories in documentary

Laura Wides-Munoz
The Columbus Dispatch
Sep 27, 2011

MIAMI — Leading Latino actors on mainstream television: Let’s see, there’s Sofia Vergara on Modern Family; Eva Longoria on Desperate Housewives; and supporting actors such as Adam Rodriguez of CSI: Miami.

After that, the list thins considerably.

Stepping into that space is The Latino List. The new documentary by Vanity Fair contributing photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders — to be shown on Wednesday and Thursday on HBO and HBO Latino — features interviews by award-winning broadcast journalist Maria Hinojosa with some of the nation’s most successful Latinos.

Longoria, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, rapper Pitbull (real name: Armando Christian Perez), astronaut Jose Hernandez and actress America Ferrera are among the 15 who made the list.

The interviews are compelling, funny and raw.

Ferrera, who starred on Ugly Betty, talks about the discrimination she faced both because she is Latina and because others thought she wasn’t Latina enough.

Hernandez recalls picking cucumbers as a child with his migrant-worker parents.

Actor John Leguizamo remembers the teacher who inspired him to become an actor by telling him he had the “attention span of a sperm.”

Many of the stories touch on the immigrant experience, but themes of family, education and determination will probably resonate far beyond the nation’s Latino community.

The project follows Greenfield-Sanders’ acclaimed The Black List (2008), a series of three documentaries featuring interviews with African-American leaders. Like The Black List, The Latino List is accompanied by a larger photography exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Greenfield-Sanders’ style is refreshingly simple: The subjects sit or stand alone before a gray background, their faces lit by soft light.

But the film’s minimalism is deceptive. Greenfield-Sanders wanted viewers to feel as if the interviewees were speaking directly to them, so he used a special camera rig with a mirror that enabled his subjects to look directly into the camera and see a projected image of Hinojosa — who was sitting on the other side of the studio. She had a similar camera and microphone.

The result enabled the list members to have “face-to-face” conversations with her while allowing viewers to feel as if they are part of the conversation.

“It was like nothing I’ve ever done before,” Hinojosa said, “and I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of interviews — from gang members to skinheads to CEOs.”

The experience was powerful, Hinojosa said, because the filming coincided with the passage of the Arizona immigration law, although the political debate over immigration is barely touched upon in the film.

Although Mexican-Americans make up almost two-thirds of the U.S. Latino population, the film features a rough balance of Mexican-Americans, Cuban-

Americans and Puerto Ricans.

Ferrera, whose family is Honduran, is the sole representative of Central American heritage.

Colombian native John Leguizamo is the only South American.

“I think it (the film) will give non-Latinos a way to better understand who we are,” said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who is in the film, “and hopefully give Latinos a sense of pride."

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