A Latino Actor on Making Your Mark

Joseph Nieves is a working actor in Hollywood, a harder feat than one can imagine. He has popped up in film, television shows and commercials from Volkswagen to Verizon, Law and Order to Southland.  He is of Puerto Rican descent and a native New Yorker. He talked to Latinitas about getting and staying in one of the most competitive businesses, which is still casting mostly Whites and others for Latino parts.

Where are you from and how does that play into your acting abilities and style?

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NYC. Being from a big city like that is a huge plus for anyone in my field, because you are exposed to a lot of cultures and you are also exposed to a lot of life experiences (for better or worse). All of this gives you many things to draw upon and relate to when playing different characters. I think for this reason, I’ve always been drawn to actors from New York. Artists like John Turturro, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale have been guys that I look up to.

Why were you interested in acting and what was the first thing you did to start building towards that goal?

As a young man I always wanted to be a professional athlete. Football player to be more specific. Once I was in college, playing division 3 ball for a team with a 2 and 7 record, I realized that that probably wasn’t going to happen. I remembered that when I was in High School I had done some of the school plays (To meet girls of course). And I recall getting this great rush when I was on stage, and how that feeling was the same feeling I got on the football field. So when I got out of school I decided to see where that could lead me. I began picking up copies of Backstage (A weekly paper dedicated to actors) and I started auditioning for student films and different projects like that. Eventually, when I knew this was something I could be serious about I moved to Los Angeles, began studying, got some head shots taken and started on my way.

What has been your favorite professional acting experience?

My favorite professional experience has to be my first real gig on Prime time network television. I did an episode of NYPD Blue. I happened to be a big fan of the show, so this was very exciting for me. My scenes were going to be with Dennis Franz and Rick Schroeder, two guys I grew up watching. The whole thing was very surreal. These two actors turned out to be incredibly supportive and welcoming to me. I will always remember their generosity as actors and human beings, for that matter. Having lead actors on a show that are such gentlemen is incredibly important, because their attitude carries on to the rest of the cast and crew and creates a great work environment.

What’s the most difficult part of the job?

The most difficult part of the job is the constant rejection when trying to get the jobs. Once you have a job, the rest is fun. But the auditioning process is the tough part. You really have to have some thick skin and learn not to take the ‘no’s’ personally.

How does community factor into being an actor?

As an actor, or any kind of artist, I think you either already have or develop a nurturing and caring spirit. Because of this, I think most artists really try to take care of other people. We have to immerse ourselves in our characters, and sometimes those characters are not necessarily people we would like or relate to. Once we do our research, we tend to be less judgmental of these folks and learn to sympathize and understand them better.

How does being Latino impact your career?

Being Latino is a huge part of my career. It has both helped and hindered me. It helps because Hollywood is making a concerted effort to involve more actors of color into projects, and also trying to create characters that can be better role models for the younger generation. So where I was probably playing more criminals 15 years ago, now I get the opportunity to play more professional characters. It hinders me because I think this industry still has a hard time seeing Latino’s for ‘not Latino specific’ roles. For example- a show about lawyers may have 5 lawyer roles open. The casting may call for 1 African American, 1 Latino, and three Caucasian lawyers. Instead of just looking for five not ethnic specific actors, they break it down like that.

What is your dream role?

As corny as it sounds, my dream role is whatever role I am doing at the moment. Right now I have been working on a show called Southland. I have been loving it. So right now Officer Fisher (Non Latino specific!) is my dream role. In classic theatre I would love to play Stanley Kowalski in “Streetcar Named Desire” or The Priest in “Doubt”.

What would you advise “Latinitas” – girls ages 8-18 to do to prepare themselves for a job in theater/acting/film?

I would recommend first- not wanting to act ‘to be famous’. You should want to do it because you love doing it. If in fact you do love doing it I would recommend going to a performing arts school. I didn’t get to do this and it’s something I think I would have enjoyed immensely as well as benefited greatly from. After that, just always take good care of your spirit. Take care of your mind and body as well. Being healthy is one of the most underrated things in the world. You would be surprised at how much more open to creativity your mind, body and spirit can be when properly taken care of.

What’s dream job #2?  (What would you be doing if you weren’t pursuing acting)

My dream job #2 would be some kind of engineer (I know that is very broad, but there are so many interesting jobs in engineering). I am presently going to school in my free time to study engineering. I think it’s very important to do things like this. I love challenging myself. It keeps things interesting. Who knows? In 10 years I may actually get my engineering degree!

Who is your favorite actor and actress and favorite thing to do in L.A.?

My favorite actor is Daniel Day Lewis. He is a master. I am also a huge fan of Meryl Streep. I think they are the two best around. I love food and exercise. So, I enjoy distance running in Los Angeles. There re a lot of cool places to run and see here. I also love going to interesting restaurants and trying different food. So me and my wife put on the calories and then run them off!

Movies: B-Girls Inside the Circle

Vea este artículo en español aquí

Former best friends turned rivals in a common life passion, Josh Ayers and Omar Davila (along with Romeo Navarro) star in filmmaker’s Marcy Garriott’s 2007 Audience Award South by Southwest Film Festival winner, Inside The Circle.

The breakthrough documentary captures B-boy and girl culture, a blend of music, hip- hop, and “b-lives”. The film captures the passion and struggles that the dancers share, humanizing hip hop culture and its trend-setters.

Inside The Circle is a compilation of four years in which Garriott follows the story of Texas’ most talented b-boys. A former engineer and, essentially, an upper-middle class White girl, Garriott’s “roots [didn’t] indicate her as the typical b-boy enthusiast, but she is ‘truly in the heart of it’,” said Beth Portello, of Cinema Libre Studio.

Garriott said that many people, including her, were not aware how big the underground b-scene was and how worldwide it is.

“Doing the movie was a revelation. I couldn’t believe how big b-culture was underground and I wanted to bring it to people’s attention,” said Garriott of her first experience watching B-boy dancers. “People (the dancers) threw me into it. The dancing is about things going on in their lives and that’s what people want to see.”

Garriott said that the actual dancing is directly tied in with the personal lives of the performers. “They bring life issues into dance-whether it’s joy, anger, frustration, or pride, it gets expressed in their dance. It’s fascinating to see that intertwined in their dance,” Garriott said. “The dancers take the audience on a real journey. Three years. You really see Ayers and Davila grow up beautifully and their passion for dance is obvious. It’s a moving experience for people to see.”

Garriott said the audiences were very diverse. The film screened at 30 festivals in nine countries and competed against Indie, Latino, Dance, Human Rights, and Hip-Hop films.

“The audience seemed grateful to have an insight (into the B-boy culture),” Garriott said. “One of the best parts was to get that diversity of audience everywhere we went. There were people who knew a little about it, some who knew quite a bit, and others who were hearing about it for the first time,” she said.

Keeping personal friendships apart from the rivalry that comes from being competing dance crews is not always easy, as Davila explained.

“Everyone has a different personality. When they dance it comes out – the emotions. It also depends on the day,” Davila said. “I just try to keep it separate in general. I’m not the type of person who opens up right away. I have to make sure it’s someone who’s there for me.”

Davila began breaking when he was twelve as a result of his friendship with older kids from his neighborhood who exposed him to B-boy culture.

“I didn’t know anything about hip-hop or the B-boy culture before,” Davila said. “It was a year or two into it, that I met a friend from Chicago who knew a lot more about it and that’s when I was exposed to it more-worldwide and learning about it.”

There are four basic elements that serve as a foundation for B-boy dancers. Toprock refers to upright dancing and shuffles done when entering a circle,hence the movie title, Inside The Circle. Downrock refers to floor dancing. Freeze are poses that add interest and flavor to a combination. The fourth element is Power.

There are a variety of components that make up B-boy styles. Power consists of full-body spins and rotations that give the illusion of defying gravity. Headspins and backspins are some power styles. Abstract is a broad term that can include freestyle movement to hot beats, threading footwork, house dancing, broken link styles and circus styles such as balance and tricks. Trick style combines many difficult trick combinations to outperform the rival B-boy. Flavor focuses more on footworks, upworks, and poses.

Omar said that Texas B-boy culture, especially his style dancing, is an “all-around style.”

“Texas B-boys are more known for innovative style,” Davila said. “It’s like drawing a painting, sketching it, outlining it, and then coming out with the details. It’s new school mixed with old school. It’s dynamic and explosive.”

Davila currently works for an entertainment company and is an independent contractor. He lives in Dallas, Texas, where his crew is based off. He is also a member of New York’s defending B-boy champions, the Mighty Zulo Kings, who have a free-style possession of their own.

An international B-boy sensation, Davila knows what it takes to make it inside the circle. “It takes time, discipline, and you have to be strong mentally. As far as being expose and compete, you have to be really prepared,” Davila said. “It’s a mental thing not a physical thing you have to overcome. ”

His message to aspiring B -boy and B-girls is to “just have fun with it.” But to “just be prepared for everything it brings.”

April 2011

Papers the Movie

There are 65,000 undocumented students who graduate every year from high school without “papers.” Can you imagine growing up in the United States and graduating from high school just to learn that your options for higher education and a career in this country are extremely limited because of your immigration status? Many of these students have lived in the U.S. for the majority of their life and consider themselves to be All-American. Without proper immigration paperwork, undocumented youth cannot legally work in the country, are not allowed admission into some universities and live in constant fear of being deported.

Film-maker Anne Galisky directed the documentary film Papers, to highlight the challenges undocumented youth face. Her film shares the stories of five undocumented immigrants whose American Dream was crushed due to their status. Their brave stories demonstrate the struggles that they must face as undocumented immigrants. It is their story that can help shed light on this issue and help bring about change.

Monica’s Story
“I’ve never saw myself as an illegal person. I also thought of myself of someone who was part of the U.S. I do normal things that kids here do. I go shopping, I have a boyfriend, I love fast food, I never thought my status can have an effect on me,” said Monica. Monica and her family are originally from Guatemala. While not being able to finish high school, her mother, brother, boyfriend and she were deported back to Guatemala. Monica currently resides in Guatemala with her boyfriend.

Juan’s Story
Juan Carlos and his mother came to the US when Juan Carlos was little. They are originally from Mexico. “It’s just me and my mom. When I was little, she provided for me and I want to make her proud….Getting my High School diploma would be great. Although I never thought that my status would interfere with me achieving my dream. I don’t agree with what the government is doing…It’s not fair and I don’t think that they should send us (the children) back to their native home. We really had no say in our parents’ actions and we shouldn’t be punished because we don’t have papers.”

Simone’s Story
An African woman who had migrated with her brother graduated from high school. Although she has not been sent back to her home country, she does mention the struggle that she must deal by not having any papers. “Getting a job is hard. I don’t have a social security number, and when I go to interviews, I tell them my story. They look at me and then some of them say ‘We’ll get back to you’ and others are nice enough that they give me a job that I did not originally apply for, but it’s a job that can help support me and my family.” Simone must face these struggles every day. Because she does not have papers, she mentions that she must always be ready when her bosses let her go because she really has no documentation that can help her stay.

Yo Sub’s Story
Yo Sub, an intelligent teenage young man with high grades and test scores, cannot benefit from the great universities that are offered here in the United States. “I already graduated from high school and I applied to eighteen universities. The next day, I received eighteen rejection letters. The reason why was because I did not have any papers to be in this country. I felt like I took all those advanced classes and extra study sessions for nothing. Nobody wants me to be in their university.” Yo Sub is currently fighting the constant battle of being accepted into college and to get the same benefits that most citizen teenagers his age get.

Jorge’s Story
“I lived in the US, since I was little. My mom and I had made it our permanent home. She has done everything for me and everything I do, I do it to make her proud…I have used my strength to fight the constant battle of being accepted socially and as well as being able to help other immigrant students to be accepted in the US to be able to continue on their education here in the US. I have helped others to get the DREAM Act, that will allow undocumented students six years of citizenship to continue their education at the college level.” Jorge did graduate from high school and is going to college. Although getting a degree would be Jorge’s dream, he still finds that the battle after maintaining a degree will be present, especially since he does not have any papers that will allow him to get a job.

The stories of these students are just some out 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school annually with little hopes for a future in the U.S. The Papers film has exposed the constant struggles that many undocumented students will face. The documentary also reveals potential legislation which would give these undocumented youth an opportunity to become legal citizens – the D.R.E.A.M Act.

By Claudia N. Oliva
For more information, about this issue and the film, check out the Papers website: PaperstheMovie.com.

Movie Review: 300

The outcome was predictable. I, the girl who passes out in the doctor’s office because she has to have blood drawn, went to see the movie “300,” It’s rated R for violence, and as you may have guessed, I wasn’t crazy about it.

You may think I shouldn’t have even bothered seeing it. But, like the 300 Spartan soldiers who fought the thousands of Persian soldiers, I was outnumbered, and I had my honor to protect. Six of my guy friends and I were hanging out, and when they got it in their heads that we should watch a movie in which men with 12 packs—yes, 12 packs—kill each other, I couldn’t really say anything that would change their minds.

I acknowledge that I am a feminine person reviewing a movie that caters to a masculine audience, and therefore, my thoughts have a distinct slant. With that in mind, I proceed.

This movie is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, who also inspired and co-directed “Sin City.” It loosely retells the story of the historical Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans face Xerxe’s massive Persian army. On the side, there’s the romance between Spartan King Leonidas and his wife, Gorgo. Mercifully, Leonidas respects Gorgo and treats her well, although she doesn’t reach the end of the movie unscathed.

It’s kind of pointless to inform you that there’s a lot gratuitous violence. Chances are, if you’re going to see this movie, you’ve figured that out by now. In fact, that might be why you’re going. After all, it seems that historically, people have entertained themselves by watching other people be impaled, crushed, beheaded and otherwise disfigured, not to mention deprived of life. Gladiatorial shows, witch burnings, guillotining of French revolutionaries—death as spectacle isn’t new.

In the movie, all this is thinly veiled behind an ostensible message of honor. But can we really accept ruthless slaughter because it’s the only thing one has been raised to do for honor?

I have to admit that every time I see warriors on galloping horses in slow motion, I have the urge to climb on a stallion, wear a billowing cape and wield a sword. This fantasy, however, doesn’t go any further. As soon as warriors onscreen actually reach the battlefield, I go back to discreetly averting my eyes, every now and then taking a peek at the wide-eyed, gleeful faces of my fellow movie-goers.

To me, the movie seemed like a pile of American propaganda. It could have been a two-hour commercial for the U.S. Army. I was put off by the approval and disapproval of different stereotypes. The white-skinned, virile, stubborn Spartans who are ready to kill or be killed for their cultural identity are obviously the good guys. Not only are the dark-skinned Persians the bad guys, they’re also portrayed as caricatures of the things that are in opposition to so-called American values, such as independence and sexual morality. And they use mutant warriors.

Some may think critics have been too sensitive and suspicious of this movie. But whether or not the insults were intended or the depictions were in any way accurate, Iranians have been offended by the portrayal of their historical predecessors.

It’s unfortunate to see that the third largest grossing R-rated movie, behind the “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Passion of the Christ,” can contain these undertones, even if they are ambiguous.

If you watch this movie complacently, you run the risk of being brainwashed and soaking up some warped messages.

By Arielle Lewis-Zavala, Teen Reporter

Movie Reviews by Club Latinitas

Club Latinitas watched Real Women Have Curves, a movie rated PG-13. These are their takes on the film. See if they think it kept them interested watching the second act.

It is both romance and drama. It is about this girl, her name was Anna. She had a mom who thinks she is fat and that she can’t do anything. The main characters were the mom, Anna, her dad and her sister Estella. The movie is mostly about a Mexican family and their values. I like Anna, because she wanted to change her life and to go to college. I did not like the mom because she was holding her daughter back from following her dreams of going to college. I like when the family understands her at the end and she gets to go to college. I think they should make it longer! I will give it 4 stars.

-by Laura

This movie is a drama about a girl who goes through bad problems with her mother. Her mother would call her names, like “Fat” and tell her she would never act like a real woman because she doesn’t walk like a lady. The main characters are Anna and her mother. My favorite character is Anna because she goes through the same things I’ve seen. I really don’t like her mother.

-by Vanessa

This movie about a girl named Anna who was brave because her mom was always telling her that she was fat, even though she was not. She has curves. Another reason that her mom was mean to her was because her mother was afraid that she was going to college. Also, during the movie she and her mother were talking in Spanish like a real Mexican family. My favorite part was when she took her clothes in front of her mother because there was no air conditioning in the dress factory they were working in with some other women.

-by Maria

By Club Latinitas

Movie Reviews

Pirates of the Caribbean
Review by Vianey Parra

How would you rate the movie? (1-5 stars)
5 stars.

What is the movie rating?

What is the movie category?
Comedy, action/adventure, and drama.

What is the movie about?
The Black Pearl is an old pirate ship. You’d never guess it but the pirates on the ship are under a spell. Every night, under the moonlight they transform into zombies. Captain Jack Sparrow and his new crew are off to search for the lost treasure. On his mischievous journey he finds the pirates that gave him grief, the pirates from the Black Pearl.

Who were the main actors and actresses in this movie?
Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley

What did you like best about this movie?
It had great acting and beautiful characters.

Finding Nemo
Review by Irma Vazquez

How would you rate the movie? (1-5 stars)
The rating I would give this movie would be a 4.

What is the movie rating?
The rating of the movie is G.

What is the movie category?
The movie category is comedy.

What is the movie about?
The move is about two fish trying to find one of the little fish’s son.

Who were the main characters in this movie?
The main actors of the movie are Marlin, Dory, and Nemo.

What did you like about this movie?
What I liked about the movie si that the dad didn’t givev up and passed through lots of things to find his son.