In fact, the reason Bardem was being interviewed was because he has been nominated for an Oscar. This newest success came thanks to the actor’s performance as Desi Arnaz in the biographical movie Being the Ricardos. Arnaz had been a Cuban actor who found fame after moving to the US in the 1930s and staring in the long-running I Love Lucy television show. Bardem’s depiction of the Cuban has been highly praised. Interestingly, this is not the first time that Bardem has been acclaimed for playing the role of a Cuban. In 2000 he starred in another biographical drama called Antes que anochezca. The film told the story of the life of Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas. Bardem was also nominated for an Oscar for this role.
Indeed, despite being from Spain, Bardem has now twice found success playing the part of a Cuban. Perhaps it was with this in mind that some people in the Americas reacted critically to one of the other things that the actor said in the interview. Specifically, the affirmation “yo sé lo que hablo cuando hablo de minorías” provoked controversy. As I wrote above, this word –minority- is charged with meaning. It is possible that the meaning changes as one moves from country to country and culture to culture. However, in a place delineated by postcolonial tensions, its use is particularly sensitive when the word is spoken by a person who is native to the formerly colonizing country.
My suspicion is that Bardem meant what he said and did not understand that his statement would be construed as controversial here in the Americas. It is unsurprising that in the context of international cinema, he sees himself and other actors from Spain as a sort of minority. Indeed, there are not many roles in Hollywood specifically written with a Spaniard in mind. However, what is fascinating for me is the fact that he did not comprehend the offense that his words would cause for many people in the Americas. Claiming minority status in a postcolonial culture is a charged and significant act. This particularly feels strange in the context of a Spaniard doing it after having gained acclaim for playing a Cuban for the second time. Indeed, there appears to be an ocean-sized chasm of misunderstanding between the Spanish and the Latin Americans regarding this issue. At least, this is the anecdotal impression I have after having spoken with family and friends in Spain about this and encountering people who were unable to wrap their heads around how Bardem’s words could be offensive. At the same time, I've discussed this with Costa Ricans, Mexicans, Colombians, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans and all of them reacted with immediate disdain upon seeing the clip from the interview. This collection of just a few of the tweets that appeared in reaction to Bardem speaking is representative of the reactions that I encountered: