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Actor-activist visits IU for Hispanic Heritage Month

By Jaclyn Lansbery

Some communities struggle with change.

This is one of the issues the 2011 film “Gun Hill Road” addresses. As part of National Hispanic American Heritage Month, IU Cinema screened the film Wednesday evening. In addition, the cinema featured a before-and-after talk by actor and activist Esai Morales.

In the film, Morales plays Enrique, a father who returns home to his emotionally estranged family after three years in prison. His wife attempts to hide an affair while his son, played by Harmony Santana, starts to explore his sexual identity and dresses like a woman.

Morales, who cofounded the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, a non-profit that advances Latinos in media, starred in “Bad Boys” in 1983 and played one of the lead roles in “La Bamba” in 1987.

Lillian Casillas, director of La Casa Culture Center, said Morales was asked to discuss his experiences as a Latino actor in television and movies, as well as the impact of the film.

“I think even though (the movie) is within a Latino context, you can pretty much place those characters, those behaviors in any community that you would go into,” Casillas said.

Morales also spoke with about 40 students at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center at IU on Wednesday.

Rashaad Ernesto Green, writer and director of “Gun Hill Road,” visited IU in April 2012 for the Latino Film Festival and Conference.

It was then that John Nieto-Phillips, director of the Latino Studies Program at IU, first saw the film.

Nieto-Phillips, whose academic research focuses on 20th-century immigration and education from Latin America, said the film shows a universal topic of families going through change.

“But more specifically I think it really touches on clash between sort of outmoded, outdated ideas about what it means to be a male or to be a man,” he said.

After introducing the film at IU Cinema, Morales said he thinks audiences root for the central character in the film without anticipating it.

“I think this film humanizes a segment of our society that is more often better left untalked about because it’s so uncomfortable,” he said. “This movie at times is uncomfortable.”

Other events featured at IU as part of Hispanic Heritage Month will address topics similar to the theme in “Gun Hill Road.”

IU Cinema will screen “Maestra” at 7 p.m. Monday. Director Catherine Murphy will be present.

“¿Queer y que? Questions for Queer Latinidad” will start at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at La Casa.

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