A couple of days ago comedic actress Tina Fey was approached by a comedian with a show on Funny or Die called Billy on the Street, who challenged her to name 20 Latino performers in one minute. The outcome, as you might imagine, was a little shameful.
What you might not imagine, though, is that I don’t think Fey deserves any of that shame.
Look, I’m Latino of Mexican-American heritage. I grew up in a home that was literally less than a mile from the United States border with Mexico and the fourth largest city in that country. My community was — and continues to be — around 80 percent Latino, and Spanglish is practically the official language. In a word, it’s Latino as hell.
And I’m telling you now, I don’t think I could name 20 Latino performers in a minute, either.
Do I have to turn in my Mexi-card? Am I somehow less Latino because of it? Will some white folks stop acting surprised when I speak accent-less English? I doubt it. So why do we expect an Anglo lady from New York to pull it off? Why do we take what was a shaky comedic premise to begin with and use it to shame someone? Por favor.
Besides the unfairness of the “game” trotted out by host Billy Eichner, the whole thing distracts from some real issues, namely the lack of Latino performers getting a shot at top-tier roles, and the relegation of the performers we do have to restrictive, stereotypical background characters. It’s gotten better, but it’s still not very good. And yet, all anyone can talk about is how Tina Fey “failed.” Which is both inaccurate in the broader Internet sense and besides the point. Here are some sample headlines to chew on:
Tina Fey Fails Miserably on Billy on the Street, Can’t Name 20 Latino Performers (Us Magazine)
Tina Fey Finally Fails at Something on Billy on the Street (E Online)
Tina Fey Gracefully Fails at Game “LaTina Fey” (USA Today)
#Epic Fail: Watch Tina Fey Struggle Naming 20 Latino Actors (Vibe)
And so on. I should point out that I’m not trying to defend Tina Fey (it would have been nice if a person who’s been successful in the entertainment industry had more Latino names at her fingertips). But personally, I don’t think she’s done anything that needs to be defended against. I think the media outlets piling on her, without taking the time to discuss the real underlying issues facing people of color in the entertainment industry, have more to answer for.