By Cindy L. Rodriguez
One of my seventh-grade Latina students, who never reads, had her nose buried in Ally Condie’s Matched the other day. She’s reading both The Giver by Lois Lowry and Matched as a companion novel for her Language Arts class. She stopped reading and looked at me as if something just occurred to her.
Student: Is Cassia Latina? Her name is Cassia Maria Reyes.
Me: I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out.
I searched online and thoughts ranged from definitely to definitely not. Some people seemed to think she had a Latin last name but was “probably white.” Hmmm. A person can be white and Latina, just as a person can be black and Latina. So, my search didn’t really answer my question.
I asked on Twitter and someone forwarded the question to Ally Condie (!) And she responded (!) She wrote: “She’s whatever you want/need her to be. But yes, I deliberately left that door open with middle/last names.”
Condie did what I often do with my students when they ask me a question about what we’re reading, and they expect me to give them “the right answer.” Instead, I pull the ole switcheroo, as many teachers and therapists do, and ask them, “What do you think?” And then we discuss their thoughts and whether the text supports their ideas. Readers will never know an author’s every intention; the work is “out there,” open to interpretation. Well played, Ally Condie (a former teacher).
Since I couldn’t provide my student with a definite answer, here’s what I said:
Me: I don’t know. What do you think?
Student: I think she’s Latina.
Me: Okay, then. Keep reading and see if it comes up. Sometimes race and culture are important in a book, but sometimes those issues aren’t mentioned much.
I wish I could say more, but I am not an expert on minority representations in sci-fi and fantasy. I know from reading other blogs that this is a big issue, but I cannot speak to it with authority. Contact us if you can and would like to write a guest post. (Seriously!)
Then she asked:
Student: Is there a movie for this?
Me: There will be! And there’s going to be a movie for The Giver, too. How cool, you’ll have read both books before seeing the films!
She didn’t really share my enthusiasm about books before movies, but anywho….It got me thinking about the Matched movie, which is in development at Disney.
I’m all for fierce, smart, butt-kicking girls, but in the four most recent major movies based on young adult novels, the protagonists all look the same: long, brownish red hair and light skin. Here they are:
I know this has been discussed before, but my student made me wonder who Hollywood might cast as Cassia Maria Reyes. Online, the fan favorite is Nina Dobrev from the Vampire Diaries. Here she is:
Hmmm. I can see that, considering the cover of Matched looks like this:
But…since the author “left the door open” to the possibility that Cassia Maria Reyes is Latina, then I think it’s the perfect opportunity for Disney to do something different and make the Matched protagonist stand out from the others. I’m not saying they should hire a Latina “just because.” Choose the best actress to play the role, of course. What I am saying is the door is open; walk through it, Disney. At the very least, consider hiring a young, talented Latina actress who could totally pull off portraying a rebellious heroine on the big screen. Please take advantage of this opportunity. Do not limit your casting call to young women who “should be Caucasian,” which happened with The Hunger Games movie. Do not cause the internet to explode–yet again–as it did this week over the casting of Mara Rooney as Tiger Lily in the upcoming movie Pan.
Broaden your scope, Disney. Seize the moment. Take a chance. Live a little. I’ll even offer some suggestions of Latina actresses who have proven their talent (see below). Your people should call their people. Have lunch. Talk. Why not? I know at least one seventh-grade girl who would look up at the big screen and say, “Cool.” And I have the hope that most other people would, too.
Left to Right: Naya Rivera, Seychelle Gabriel, Victoria Justice, Francia Raisa, Bella Thorne