Of all the new shows this season on American television, the one I looked forward to the most was NBC’s The Event. Not only is it science fiction and potentially conspiracy related, but it has a solid cast and a Latino First Family (!!!). So did I like it? Why yes I did! After watching the first two episodes, I found it has the mystery of The 4400 (which has some similarities) and LOST before we started to wonder if the writers knew what they were doing. Unfortunately The Event is flashback heavy- it makes the storytelling unnecessarily convoluted. I’m hoping that this frenetic jumping around will simmer down soon because it will get old fast. The story doesn’t need more help in being complicated.
[Skip this paragraph to avoid spoilers] So what’s it about? Well so far, a group of individuals with advanced physiology and technology are kept prisoner in an Alaskan facility at Mount Inostranka (meaning foreigner/alien in Russian). After 60 years, the U.S. President learns of these people (let’s call them the Inostranka Group). He tries to get them out but events in the first two episodes change his mind. The Inostranka Group has people outside, and, tired of waiting, are poised to react, possibly violently. Usually these stories have an average character who gets thrust into the middle of things- someone to root for. In this case it’s Sean Walker (Jason Ritter), a guy who just wants to propose to his girlfriend but all this conspiracy stuff gets in the way.
The Event features a U.S. President of Cuban descent, President Elias Martinez (Blair Underwood), the First Lady Christina Martinez also of Cuban heritage (Lisa Vidal, Puerto Rican) and their son, David (Sayeed Shahidi). There is another Latino actor in the series besides Vidal- Gonzalo Menendez (of Cuban heritage). He plays an Air Marshal called Dan Taylor- a minor character listed in 4 episodes on IMDB. Not sure what is up with his accent but I wanted to mention him since he’s had small parts in at least three other genre works- 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, The Island, and Sliders. All we know about this character is his job, his weird accent, and that he wears a wedding ring. At least he has a name, so who knows? We may see more of him in the series.
Apparently there’s been some controversy about Blair Underwood playing a Latino character of such stature (major character, primetime network TV). I admit I would have preferred a Latino actor because of the shortage of good roles that are custom-made for a Latino. But Underwood is doing a good job so far, and he definitely looks the part. Sure when he speaks Spanish he’s probably going to have a terrible accent that will make me cringe, but so do many second generation Latinos raised in the United States. Plus, the character is a bona fide Afro-Latino which is super rare on TV. Most Latinos on television or in movies are white or light skinned, and that goes for Latin American productions too.
Out of curiosity, I looked up other fictional Latino U.S. presidents. Here they are:
- Jimmy Smits (Puerto Rican) as President Matthew Santos (Mexican American) in The West Wing
- John D’Aquino (Italian American) as President Richard Martinez in Cory in the House
In written works (now added to my reading list!):
- President Juanita Alvarez in Sunstorm by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter (President in 2037)
- President Joseph Armando in Mars by Ben Bova (first Hispanic president, elected sometime in the early 21st century)
- President Maria Juarez in: The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter (First female President of the United States, for at least one term (2037-2041))
So according to this brief research, President Elias Martinez is the first U.S. President of Latino heritage on a science fiction TV show. But if you’re thinking sci-fi movies, then look no further than President Camacho of Idiocracy: