Norman Lear, 'One Day at a Time' Cast Reflect on Changing Opportunities for Latinos in Hollywood

Courtesy of Jeromy Robert Photography
From left: Castro, Machado, Lear, Plana, Moreno and CHCI president and CEO Domenika Lynch

The legendary TV creator was honored with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's inaugural Pioneer Award.

Norman Lear thought he was heading to the City Club in downtown Los Angeles on Friday evening to support Netflix's reboot of One Day at a Time. He had no idea that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's inaugural Pioneer Award was specifically for him.

In characteristic self-deprecating fashion, the legendary television creator continuously deflected attempts by Rep. Joaquin Castro, chair of CHCI (a nonpartisan nonprofit), to turn attention to him, telling those gathered with him onstage — One Day at a Time stars Justina Machado, Rita Moreno and Tony Plana, plus comedian Paul Rodriguez, star of Lear's 1984 sitcom a.k.a. Pablo — that he was "tired of hearing about Norman Lear."

Castro obliged, asking the screen veterans how Hollywood has changed for Hispanic performers. Moreno opted for optimism: "I remember when Ricardo Montalban said the door is ajar for Latinos. It's still not wide open, but you can push it. That's not terrible," she said. "I don't want to be a naysayer, because our determination and talents will eventually open the door wider. But it takes people like Norman Lear. We can't do it alone."

Plana noted that when he returned to the States after studying at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he went from playing Richard II to roles like Cab Driver No. 2. "I didn't see where I belonged," he said, "until I watched All in the Family. Norman turned stereotypes on their head, and that inspired me to want to be on TV and find shows like that."

The Ugly Betty alum cited USC's 2016 report on diversity in film and television, which found that Latinos made up just 5.8 percent of all named or speaking characters. "There's progress, but it's incremental and glacial."

Lear agreed: "We have a long way to go in talking about race. We need to move forward in putting more cameras on Latinos, more families on the air."

The panelists also had advice for the Latino community in achieving that goal. "We need to be careful that we don't victimize ourselves," Moreno said, explaining that she didn't want the lack of a wide-open door to be "a reason for losing hope."

Rodriguez pointed to the African-American community in Hollywood as a model. "Latinos owe a great deal of debt to them," he said. "We have seen them struggle, and we piggyback on that. They've laid the groundwork."

Machado called out nationalistic divisions within the Latino community as an obstacle to progress. "We lack unity," she said. "Let's stop saying, 'I'm Puerto Rican,' 'I'm Mexican.' Who cares? Stop with the colonial stuff so we can move forward."