Hispanic actors lead Walking Dead spin-off series
By SUSAN HORNIK
SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Don’t be surprised if you see zombies the next time you are in East Los Angeles—the prequel AMC spinoff series, Fear The Walking Dead, recently started shooting in Southern California. Focusing on the early days of the undead apocalypse, the new series is set loosely around the time The Walking Dead‘s Rick (Andrew Lincoln) was in a coma.
Focusing on the early days of the undead apocalypse, the new series stars veteran Latin actor/musician Ruben Blades, Mercedes Mason, Lorenzo James Henrie, Alison Araya, Patricia Reyes Spíndola, and Elizabeth Rodriguez.
According to the U.S. census, East LA is 96.7 percent Latino. It’s hard to imagine that creators of Fear The Walking Dead didn’t take this into consideration when developing the plot; Hispanic actors get top-billing in the show’s cast. Executive producer Greg Nicotero said the series centers around “everyday people.”
“It’s the story of a highly dysfunctional blended family holding it together,” before devolving into zombie mayhem Nicotero said over the weekend at a panel discussion during San Diego ComicCon.
“Knowing that society could be unraveling underneath each of these characters as it’s happening and then seeing how they change really is at the heart of the show,” Nicotero continued. “Since these are regular city-folk, not survivalists, no one will have the skills they’re going to need to survive.”
Just a year ago NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans criticized the way producers handled diversity on “Walking Dead.” Deggans said it took a long time for producers to get it right, but that he’s hopeful they now have a better understanding on how to handle ethnic diversity–even in a zombie apocalypse.
“One thing I’ve noticed regarding diversity and television is that it’s easier to cast a person of color who is essentially written as a white person — nothing distinctive about their ethnicity or racial background makes it into the show. It’s especially easy for all-white writing staffs, who don’t have to worry about getting something wrong when they feature the character’s ethnicity. One has to wonder, is that really diversity?” Deggans said.
He continued: “But most people of color nowadays live in a world where sometimes their race and culture is a big part of their life and sometimes it isn’t. I think TV shows still struggle to portray that, especially with Hispanic/Latino characters.”
Science fiction shows tend to be more open about casting people of color – mutants, androids and aliens – but historically there still weren’t many Latinos in these roles. According to a 2013 report in Latino Post, the lack of Latinos present in science fiction is done “under the assumption that Latinos are not interested in alternative realities or the ‘consequences of scientific innovations,’ which is not true,” writes Nicole Akroukou Thompson.
Despite making up 17 percent of the U.S. population, Hispanics are few and far between when it comes to holding leading roles on TV shows and movies, according to a 2014 study on Latinos in media. Not so with “Fear The Walking Dead.”
Veteran jazz musician Ruben Blades is the lead actor in the series. He plays Daniel Salazar, an immigrant barber who wants to have a better life with his wife Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) and daughter Ofelia (Mercedes Mason).
“I always say that the first motivation for an actor to work is unemployment,” said Blades during the panel discussion at ComiCon. “I felt good about accepting this role, because it is a very complex character, and I also really like science fiction.” He describes his character as “a man who has come from a different environment, a different society to start a life elsewhere with his family. “Events occur that force him to revisit a past that he was trying to get away from,” Blades said.
In an interview following the panel discussion, Blades explained the role immigrant and Hispanic culture plays in the show. “The Latinos in Fear the Walking Dead have already had this displaced narrative in their origin story,” Blades said. “They’ve already uprooted. And now they are facing it again, but within a new conflict of catastrophe and cultures. This show asks how would we behave everything was being redefined all the time? And that’s also a question that immigrants face on different scales, day-to-day.”
“Fear The Walking Dead” premieres Aug. 23rd at 9:00 p.m. on AMC. Watch the official ComicCon trailer below.