If it wasn’t for director Robert Rodriguez’ insistence, the family of super sleuths in his 2001 film “Spy Kids” would not have been Latino. During a Comic-Con@Home panel Thursday, Rodriguez detailed the effort he had to make to convince his studio backers, who were concerned that the film’s audience would be limited because of its majority Latino cast.
Rodriguez appeared on the pre-recorded panel “Directors on Directing,” alongside Colin Trevorrow (“Jurassic World: Dominion”) and Joseph Kosinski (“Top Gun: Maverick”). Rodriguez offered the “Spy Kids” example as an answer to a question about the greatest creative victory he’s had in his three-decade career.
“For me it was a big victory … to have the kids in ‘Spy Kids’ be a Latin family. The studio was like, ‘Why are you making them Latin, though, why don’t you just make them American?” he said. “They are American, they’re based on my family.”
Born in San Antonio to parents of Mexican decent, Rodriguez said the inspiration for “Spy Kids” came from his uncle, Gregorio Rodriguez, who had a successful career in the FBI. The film follows two kids who need to save their spy parents from cartoonish villains, with characters named after Rodriguez’ family members: his uncle Gregorio (Antonio Banderas), brother Junie (Daryl Sabara), and sister Carmen (Alexa PenaVega).
“There were no roles being written for Latins at that time, back in 1999, nor were they being cast. If I wasn’t Latin, I would have given up the fight,” the director said. “When you’re doing anything that’s new, this just happens to be about diversity, you’re going to get a question and you have to have a good answer. They weren’t being dicks or anything, they’ve just never seen it before.”
Rodriguez said unnamed studio executives, presumably at distributor Dimension Films, were concerned that non-Latino audiences would be uninterested in going to theaters to watch a movie with such a large Latino cast, one that also included Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo.
This is what finally convinced them: “You don’t have to be British to enjoy James Bond. By being more specific, you’re being more universal,” Rodriguez said.
Their fears were unfounded: The film went on to gross $148 million on a $35 million budget and spawn a franchise of three additional films, a Netflix series, video games, and books, as well as the offshoot “Machete” franchise. The director said the success of the Netflix series prompted the streamer to commission his upcoming family superhero film, “We Can Be Heroes.”
He also briefly reiterated that he plans to reboot the franchise, something he’s been talking about for a decade.
Rodriguez said he takes seriously his role as a storyteller in helping provide underrepresented kids a new perspective: “For those who are Latin, in particular, it means so much. It changes their whole future about what is possible.”
On the panel, Trevorrow praised the directors’ efforts as part of Rodriguez’ legacy in Hollywood. “I think it really did pave the way for studios to trust the choices like that,” Trevorrow said.