As Edward James Olmos weaved his way along the sidewalk past Warner Bros. studios on Friday morning, he drew back pats, handshakes, shrieks of pleasure and smiles of recognition every few feet. Many of the striking actors and writers marching with him were Latinos, showing strength in numbers on a day that more than two dozen Latino arts and advocacy groups had targeted for a big turnout.
Several demonstrators requested selfies, of course. Olmos obliged them all. Christopher Banda, Jr., an aspiring actor-writer, confessed he was a bit anxious approaching one of his idols who, to this day — and somewhat shockingly — is the only Chicano ever nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.
“I watched ‘Mi Familia,’ I read ‘Zoot Suit,” Banda said, alluding to two of Olmos’s signature performances. “I’m a little bit nervous because he’s an inspiration. To meet a hero like that, you get nervous.”
Within seconds, he and Olmos were chatting like old pals about community theater.
“I come from exactly where he comes from,” Olmos observed as the two men parted ways. “I’m sure he comes from the Eastside.”
Olmos moves a bit tentatively these days. Unknown to all but a few intimates, he was battling throat cancer last year. His body was bombarded with radiation, he explains, sharing some gruesome cell phone pics with a reporter that depict his head, neck and shoulders encased in what could pass for a medieval torture device. In fact, it was an image of the state-of-the-art Cedars-Sinai technology that saved his life.
But if his body is less robust than it was back in the day, his political consciousness remains in fighting trim. His father was a steel welder, his mother was a law enforcement officer — union people. He has been involved in strikes before, notably when Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta led farmworkers in the massive boycotts of the 1960s and ‘70s.
And when he mounted a makeshift platform outside the Warner Bros. visitor parking structure to shouts of Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! and grabbed a megaphone to address the upbeat, sun-baked crowd, he had a stirring, if somewhat sobering, message to deliver.
“I love you,” Olmos told them, “thank you so much for coming out today….You cannot tell Latinos how to strike!”
Then after riding the momentum for several moments, he exhorted, “This is the most important thing that I will say today, OK: Be ready for the long run. This is going to take months. Do not bail out on us!”
“We’re ready!” one Latina striker yelled back.
Before the Writers Guild of America went on strike and was later joined by SAG-AFTRA, many Latinos in the entertainment industry were anticipating that this summer could mark “a critical turning point for Latino representation.” That shimmering possibility suffuses an open letter released last week by the alliance of Latino advocacy groups, including the Alliance of Latinx Executives, Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, Voto Latino, the Latino Film Institute, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
“We were hopeful that our long overdue cultural moment had finally arrived,” the letter continued. “And now we are confronted with an unprecedented moment across the media industry; a double strike that will have a disproportionate impact on artists of color whose work we have come to rely on to entertain and educate audiences.”
The statement concluded with a bold vow: “For the sake of current and future generations of Latinos, we will not delay our progress any longer. We invite you to join us in our effort to amplify the work that countless Latino artists have created. It’s important that we show up for them at a time when they are not able to promote or talk about their projects.”
Olmos is well versed in the formidable challenges facing Hollywood, including the swift rise of artificial intelligence programs that could mimic screenwriters’ turns of phrase and replicate human actors’ voices and visuals. It’s as if the nightmare Los Angeles of 2019 in “Blade Runner,” in which Olmos and Harrison Ford” played police officers charged with tracking down killer androids, had somehow already seeped into the Hollywood of 2023.
“Have you been on Chat yet?” Olmos asked me. “Oh boy. Frightening. Incredibly frightening. And at the same time, totally awesome. I think the main thing that was frightening was how fast it works and what clarity it has.”
Change in Hollywood “is monumental and it’s coming quickly,” he added. “The only thing we can try to do is try to formulate some kind of regulation that would be positive for workers.”
As the symphony of honking cars and “Si, se puede” chants crescendoed, Olmos made his way back to the sidewalk, more or less blending in with the other working women and men of the Industry. One of them, actor-writer Casey Vera asked for, and got, the star’s signature on a T shirt.
“When you meet a legend like that, he’s fighting for what we’re fighting,” Vera said. “He’s trying to protect all the stuff that he did for 40 years. We’re trying to protect the future and what we’re doing. He’s always been the face, so to see him out here walking and talking and interacting, it means something.”