Kamala López was all smiles as the California Latino Legislative Caucus honored her with the Achievement in Advocacy & Entertainment award last Monday during the 15th annual Latino Spirit Awards.
“I am very heartened and pleased by the fact that we are starting to recognize Latinos for doing civic-minded things and for being engaged in our society,” said López, who is an award-winning actress, screenwriter, director and producer. “I think a lot of times we are scapegoated and I think it’s important to put people to the fore that are working very hard to change perceptions in the mainstream of what a Latino is and what we bring to our society.”
López has appeared in over 30 feature films, including ‘Born in East L.A.’ and ‘The Chico Mendez Story’ opposite the late Raúl Julia, and directed the award-winning film about first US Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, ‘A Single Woman.’
In 2011 she received the Woman of Courage award from the National Women’s Political Caucus for her work on social justice and women’s rights and in 2012 she was named one of the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century by Women’s eNews.
“I’ve always been proponent of equality between people and I feel the United States is a country that says that it stands for all of the greatest values that human beings have. I would like to see the walk match the talk,” López said.
Her work on behalf of women and girls has been recognized by Los Ángeles County’s Board of Supervisors and the Women’s Commission, who named her 2015 Woman of the Year in the Arts/Media arena.
López is the President and CEO of Heroíca Films and the founder and executive director of The ERA Education Project, a national media campaign to educate and raise public awareness about the need for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Also for the last eight years, she has been working on a project called ‘Equal Means Equal,’ along wit her mother and husband.
“It’s a study of discrimination against women in the United States across 12 different subject areas from sexual assault, pregnancy discrimination to gender wage gap. Our executive producer is Patricia Arquette and we’ve been working really hard to get the word out that there is a need for federal equal rights for women in our Constitution. That many of these things we are seeing, where women and children are falling by the waist-side, it’s because we don’t have those basic civil rights protections in our Constitution — it’s almost like we forgot when we wrote the Constitution women were property,” explained López. “When that changed, they didn’t change the laws to match the reality of the society, when it boils down it causes very great problems to our children, women and our American families. Our American families can’t survive when a Latina is making 44 cents on the white man dollar and that that would be rectified immediately by the Equal Rights Amendment, which has failed to pass.”
López is very vocal as she details the difficulty she’s faced in getting the project off the ground.
“I don’t have a lot of backing for this project. It’s interesting because we find that when women are involved with something the funding doesn’t seem to be there at the same rate as for men,” she said. “There are no men in our civil rights struggle, and every single civil rights struggle has passed because men have had support from all sorts of group and women have supported every civil rights struggle, from the black to the gay struggle. Now, we need these other groups, especially men to stand up for us and say ‘it’s not right, it’s not fair, you are our mothers, our sisters, our wives, our daughters and our lovers and we respect you and we think that you should be respected in the country and the Constitution and we stand by you.’
“That’s what we need right now because women have always stood together but women don’t have the power because we are not equal.”
López has too had her share of obstacles in the entertainment business, she said.
“The entertainment industries, like all the industries, is quite sexist. You notice that there are many, many more parts, not just in front of the camera, but behind the camera, for men than there are for women. It is not acceptable. With 161 million women in the United States, with the power that we have, 87 percent of the purchasing decisions, this is not right.”
A lot more can be done to change the stereotypes Latinos, like herself, face in Hollywood.
“If we have more Latino writers, producers, consultants, executives, then our stories are brought out.
“I was complaining back when I started in ‘Born in East L.A.’ and these other movies, ‘why are my parts always so bad?’ I’m a Yale University graduate, why am I constantly playing people that can’t speak properly, or that are drug addicts, or prostitutes. I realized that I had to stop blaming others and take responsibility, if I want our stories to be told, I need to write our stories because they don’t know what to write, it’s not their experience and it’s not their fault, but if I come with a good Latino story and you don’t do it, then it is on you,” López said. “We have incredibly talented Latinos throughout the entertainment industry but they are not given the opportunities they deserve, so there really needs to be a step up from all of the areas in our society to include us, to include Latinos, to include women to really make this country what it proposed to be.”
Other Latino Spirit Award honorees included Pepe Aguilar (Arts & Entertainment), Samantha Bricio (Athletics), Esteban Hernández (Performing Arts), Mickey Ibarra (Public Service), Marco Lizárraga (Community Empowerment), Mario J. Molina (Science), José Ramírez (Athletics), Bárbara Torres (Public Service)and Porto’s Bakery & Café (Business & Philanthropy.