A leading Latino actor tells Iowa Independent ABC's wildly popular program "Ugly Betty" is doing for his community what "The Cosby Show" did for African-Americans in the 1980s.
"Absolutely," Tony Plana said in a phone interview from his car in Los Angeles. "It is the first true Latino crossover hit and it has humanized Latinos in a way that no other program ever came close to doing."
In the hit program, Plana plays Ignacio Suarez, a widowed father of Ugly Betty, played by critically acclaimed actress America Ferrera. The final two episodes of this season will air tonight at 7 p.m. CST and next Thursday -- with the future of programming (there were supposed to be 23 episoddes this year) tied up with the writers' strike.
Plana notes that the show has 10 million to 12 million and earned 11 Emmy nominations in its first year, more than any other network show and any program with the exception of "The Sopranos."
"It sets the bar and creates a model for successful ethnic programming in the future in that it is diverse in its own nature and focus," Plana said.
Just as Bill Cosby's popular NBC program of 20 years ago transcended race and debunked stereotypes, "Ugly Betty" showcases the richness of the Latino community, and connects characters with the American public because of a commonality of life experiences, pain and joy, that crosses racial and economic lines.
"I believe television is the most powerful communication instrument on the planet and it can be the most powerful in beginning to evolve more harmonious relations between races and cultures in this country," Plana said.
He said it is vital for America to have a show like "Ugly Betty" in which Latinos are portrayed as complex, muli-dimensional human beings.
"This is one of my proudest moments as an actor in over 30 years of service," Plana said. "I feel very honored to be part of this program."
As an actor Plana has starred in more than 70 feature films, including JFK, Nixon, Salvador, An Officer and a Gentleman, Lone Star, Three Amigos, Born in East L.A., El Norte, 187, Primal Fear, Romero, One Good Cop, Havana, The Rookie, Silver Strand and Picking Up the Pieces with Woody Allen. He recently appeared in the action thriller Half Past Dead with Steven Segal, Morris Chestnut, and JaRul; The Lost City, with Andy Garcia, Bill Murray, and Dustin Hoffman; and Disney’s highly acclaimed GOAL, The Dream Begins! His soon-to-be-released feature film projects include El Muerto starring Wilbur Valderama, Justified, Towards Darkness, and AmericanEast with Tony Shaloub.
Here is how the Internet Movie Database describes "Ugly Betty":
Betty Suarez is smart, sweet and hard working. The only problem is that she's not thin and beautiful like all her coworkers at Mode, the high-fashion magazine where she works. The only reason the publisher hired her to be his son's secretary, is that he thought Betty was someone who Daniel would never sleep with. Betty's hard work and determination earns Daniel's respect, as she helps him find his way through the shark infested waters of the fashion industry. Ugly Betty is based on a Colombian telenovela "Yo Soy Betty La Fea."
The is cross-posted on Iowa Independent.com.