LOS ANGELES — Latin-American presence in Hollywood is usually confined behind the scenes, a truth that Halguín states with great disdain. "We're a diverse peoples from whom the likes of Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz sprung. Why aren't there more of us in front of the camera? Calling the shots?"
In the last few decades, the issue of racial diversity has taken Hollywood by the throat. It's refused to let go--rightfully so. With many talents working behind the scenes, Hollywood has yet to give the Latin American community the representation it deserves in the stories that it chooses to green light.
"It's a choice, isn't it? Production companies choose what stories to tell, and they choose not to tell the stories of minorities." Halguín asks rhetorically, gesticulating his frustration. It's a busy Friday evening when I met with one of the most promising directors of this generation, and Cognescenti Coffee in downtown LA is more populated than usual. Not a few customers look over their shoulders to see what the fuss is all about.
The "fuss" is systemic and unjust, if Halguín were to answer their questioning looks right then and there. For the moment, however, I'm the only recipient of Halguín's attention--and unfortunately so. The man is unnervingly passionate and focused. I may have strongly fought the urge to squirm in my chair. I am, after all, a middle-aged white man with the Anglo-Saxon last name to prove my family's long colonial history in the Americas. Though he doesn't attack me personally, it's discomfiting to know that, in that instance, I represented the enemy.
The only son of two doctors who emigrated to Mexico from their native Chile, fluent in three languages (Spanish, French, and English), and a graduate of the esteemed film school of UCLA, Halguín represents a minority of a minority, if Hollywood's hierarchy of technocrats were to be examined. Having worked under some of the most illustrious directors of the 21st century, Halguín is unquestionably competent. However, Hollywood--indeed, the film industry--doesn't work with the technocratic merit-and-fitness formula of corporate set-ups. Like most art forms, film relies on only one thing: talent--of which, one can't claim that Halguín is lacking. But what white Hollywood doesn't acknowledge is that being a minority added greater weight to a transient, intangible, and mostly enigmatic element of success: luck. Opportunity.
"I'm luckier than most," Halguín proceeds to say after ordering his second coffee ("This is way too sweet," he'd said with a pinched expression on the first sip) in less than an hour. "I got to work with the best. I'd won a scholarship in one of the best film schools in the continent and that gave me a leg up. Lady Luck doted on me in my formative years." With self-effacing humor, he adds: "Or should I say Lady Privilege?"
However much he chalks his success to circumstance, Halguín has the curriculum vitae of a professional that hit the ground running. His first foray in the film industry was on the summer of his second year in film school as an "underpaid script coordinator" (in his own words) for Pedro Almodóvar's modern classic Hable con ella (2002).