Edward James Olmos has been acting, directing and producing film and television for 45 years, establishing himself as an iconic Latino actor when there weren’t many of them. Films from Blade Runner to Zoot Suit, Selena, My Family and American Me, and TV work including his Emmy-winning turn as Lt. Castillo in Miami Vice, Battlestar Galactica‘s Commander Adama, and most recently Mayans M.C. patriarch Felipe Reyes. Last time Los Angeles was engulfed in the kind of turmoil we’ve seen this week was the 1992 LA Riots, the lifelong Angelo assisted in the cleanup effort. At 73, he continues to self- quarantine, which he has done since early March. But he has watched this drama unfold like the rest of us. He shares his thoughts on what’s unfolded, and taps his own frustrations and experiences to advise how to turn Hollywood’s receptiveness to get involved in anti-racist causes into a tipping point that might mean not only an increase in inclusive film and TV projects, but more decision making executives of color.
DEADLINE: I have always found you to be a reasoned thoughtful actor/activist, and a minority who has worked in Hollywood long enough to have seen everything. We are all shell shocked over the killing of George Floyd, and the peaceful protests and the looting and political rhetoric that followed. Hollywood agencies and studios went dark for Blackout Tuesday, and made pledges to donate and be more sensitive and promote anti-racist causes. But Hollywood’s power structure is dominated by whites and there have never been many people of color in real decision making positions. What do you make of all this, coming on the heels of a coronavirus pandemic that brought Hollywood to a screeching halt like nothing we’ve ever seen?
EDWARD JAMES OLMOS: This time period has given us an opportunity for us to have a real introspective look at ourselves and the society we live in. It started with the pandemic, which might again be in full swing, and about to have a devastating effect on the entire country because of what we’re doing right now, and people are pushing it over to one side. The difficulty is that there will be a lot of people that will end up bringing about the death of a lot of other people, and by August I bet you we’ll lose another 50,000.
DEADLINE: You mean protesters in the streets spreading the virus to others protesting the same worthy cause?
OLMOS: Oh, yeah. I mean, the virus is very, very, very communicable. It is very contagious and people are not even thinking about it right now. Some people are wearing masks and I’m very proud of that, but not everyone, and so my instincts are that in about 10 or 12 days, we will see a spike in cases. Everybody says that we’ll see a second wave come around in September, but I fearing now, based on what we have been watching, it’s evident that it’s going to be here before that.
DEADLINE: Oh, my. I hadn’t even thought about that. I read that after the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, you went down and helped with the cleanup effort. And here we are, again. Have we as a society made any progress since that flashpoint moment?
OLMOS: We’re more sensitized, and so many people have been killed. Minorities that have been killed within their own culture and by way of the law enforcement police department. This is a cultural issue that hasn’t changed, the police who end up using their strength and their power. We have people right now in the police department that really need to understand…maybe this will bring about a sense of awareness, and will sensitize them to realize that this whole situation we’re experiencing right now was caused by a vicious, vicious murder which was seen on camera and projected to the entire country. And the world, and the response from powers that be was different than the response would’ve been had anyone else done the exact same thing. Now you say, well, they’re the police department. Yeah, but when we saw it, we all knew from the moment we were watching it that the man died under the hands of this police officer…officers, because there were four of them, and we all knew it. We all saw it, and one of the people right there that was holding the camera was hollering and saying, you’re killing him! Let him breathe, and you could hear him saying, I can’t breathe, and then you heard him call for his mother and then he stopped. He wasn’t talking to his mom anymore or doing anything for like two-and-a-half minutes, and then when they picked him up, everyone saw that he was gone.
You could say well, he was unconscious. No, he was dead, and they have now had a very strong private autopsy done by a well-established doctor who stated that he had died of asphyxiation during the time period of the nine minutes that he was under the knee of that policeman. We have a murder that was seen, and for them to treat it as well, the police are different, there might be some things that we have to check, so the unions come in, and of course police department tries to handle their own in the way that they handle their own. But it was really evident that by the first day that they should have done with them what they would have done to anyone else. They should not have placed them on another level; they should have taken them in and arrested them for murder, until they find out exactly what happened. All four of them should be in prison right now, and that caused people to want to express themselves and created such a strong reaction. This is probably one of the strongest reactions we’ve had in a long, long time. Of course, some people are taking advantage of this and that is really sad.
I saw something [Tuesday] that was amazing, that they’re out here doing it this way. A very interesting tweet I received, and I can’t quite believe it. It’s exactly what we know is going on right now throughout the country and around the world, and their intentions are pretty clear, with the way that it’s written. It is breathtaking because you know exactly where they’re coming from and what they’re saying and why they’re doing it.