Slowly, the entertainment industry is taking notice that Latinos are a demographic force to be taken seriously.
In baby steps, tiny foot-dragging steps, Hollywood seems to be moving away from the days when the principal roles available to Latinos were either those of the sultry femme fatale or the dark-haired, language-mangling villain.
For Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas, their star power has delivered them to the point where their heavily-accented voices alone are being relied on to carry a film.
Case in point: "Puss in Boots," the sixth collaboration by the Mexican and Spanish heartthrobs, premiers in the United States Friday. It is their first animated film together.
Banderas, who arrived in the United States two decades ago, said that Hollywood -- like society as a whole -- has gradually become more accepting of the contributions of Latinos, Collider.com reported:
When I first came to America, 21 years ago, I did The Mambo Kings, and somebody on the set said to me, ‘If you’re gonna stay here, you’re going to play bad characters. You’re going to be the bad guy, in movies.’ In these 21 years, everything has changed, very much. In a way, it’s a reflection of what is happening in society. There were many generations of Latino people coming to this country, coming from difficult political or social situations in their own countries, and they worked very hard to have their kids go to universities. Well, those kids came out and they are now doctors and architects, or they are on the Supreme Court. That has a reflection in Hollywood.
Puss in Boots stars Banderas as the swashbuckling feline Puss with the deep voice and sad eyes who was first introduced in "Shrek 2" in 2004. Now, Puss teams up with Kitty Softpaws (Hayek), a clawless cat thief, and Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifiankis) to confront the villainous pair Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris).
To Hayek, a movie star, director, producer, wife and mother, the animated heroes in 'Puss in Boots' can be empowering figures for Latino children.
"I think that this movie is so important because our children will see that the Latinos are the heroes which will help their self-esteem," she told LatinoReview.com. "I think it's important for the children now to grow up in a different world where we're not only the servants and the bad guys but we are the heroes that fight for honor and fight for community. I think these movies are very important like that."
For Hayek and Banderas, the path to shattering the stereotypes that plagued the careers of Spanish-speaking actors was long and hard, they told the Latin American Herald Tribune:
"I arrived in this country without speaking the language. Doing animation was inconceivable," the 51-year-old Banderas, a native of the southern Spanish city of Malaga, told Efe in a joint interview with Hayek in Los Angeles, the city that served as a springboard to mega stardom for both actors after rocky starts.
"I didn’t know anyone and they mocked me for wanting to do the most basic stuff as an artist," the 45-year-old Hayek, who was born in the eastern Mexican state of Veracruz, said.
"They told me everything, things you can't imagine. 'You’re the most beautiful woman I've seen in my life. You have loads of talent. Too bad when you open your mouth you have to remind everyone watching the film of their housekeeper,'" an indignant Hayek said.