Robert Rodriguez has done whatever he can to bring Latin stories and faces to Hollywood. From Desperado, Four Rooms, From Dusk til Dawn, and the Spy Kids Trilogy the 52-year-old Mexican American from Texas helped Latin legends like Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas, and Danny Trejo become working actors. Rodriguez is a pioneer for diversity in Hollywood and his latest Netflix film We Can Be Heroes is a representation of how much he has continued to accomplish. Read how Rodriguez created an “organically diverse” superhero team and used his children as inspiration.
“We Can Be Heroes” is an action comedy-drama that follows children who team up and work together to save the world and their parents after an alien invader kidnaps Earth’s superheroes. Missy Moreno, played by YaYa Gosselin is on her journey to rescue her superhero dad, Marcus Moreno played by Pedro Pascal. Per NBC News, Moreno teams up with 10 other super kids, whose parents were also kidnapped, to create “a new organically diverse superhero team.” Rodriguez’s Sharkboy and Lavagirl characters from his 2005 film are in the same world and appear as adults in the film.
Rodríguez told NBC that he found himself revisiting the notes and journals he kept while doing Spy Kids and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl while working on We Can Be Heroes. By tapping back into those sources of inspiration he was able to create “something that just feels like those films, but it’s still new and fresh for today.” “All those earlier films were based on my experiences growing up in a family of 10 kids,” he said, “whereas this one, was more based on my experience as a father raising my kids.” Rodriguez drew inspiration from his five children to create a heartfelt journey full of fun and unexpected plot twists. He said that his youngest daughter, Rhiannon, inspired a lot of the children’s superpowers. The 15-year-old is a talented singer and artist and inspired the character “Facemaker”, who has shapeshifting abilities, “A Capella”, who levitates things with her voice, and “Ojo,” who manifests her mysterious powers through her sketches. The proud father even used her art for the film. “She draws nonstop on her iPad and she’s so good. In fact, all the art you see that Ojo draws on her iPad, my daughter drew that on the set, in real-time because we needed to have drawings done on the set. So, she was on the set every day making those.”
Three of his oldest children, Racer, 23, Rebel, 21, and Rogue, 16, also brought the film to life. Racer created the characters of Sharkboy and Lavagirl when he was 7 and is a producer on the film. Rebel played a younger Sharkboy in the original film and created the new movie’s score while Rogue did the set designs for the alien spaceships. “It really was a way to capture their childhood, the fun we had and the parenting and the sort of mentorship and partnering with your children that takes place — and how they become better than us. That‘s really the story of the movie,” Rodríguez said.
The entertainment industry is changing and people of color have slowly had other opportunities besides stereotypical and tokenized roles- but it wouldn’t be possible without leaders like Rodriguez. He put his Mexican American upbringing and roots at the center of many of his film’s narratives but said some industry folks couldn’t quite understand it. Rodríguez said he noticed the “really systemic problem” early on created his own “star system” to create more opportunities for new voices. “No one was creating roles for people of color like that, to be able to show that they could be a star,” said Rodríguez. “So, I had to start with ‘Desperado’ and discover Salma and bring in Antonio from Europe, bring in Cheech Marin. I had Danny Trejo in 10 movies before he became the lead in ‘Machete.’”
Even after his successes, Rodriguez had to create an argument to get Spy Kids made with Latin leads. “It was so difficult to get ‘Spy Kids’ made with Latin leads because there weren‘t enough writers who were creating roles like that,” he recalled to NBC. “You don’t have to be British to enjoy James Bond. By making these characters very specific, they become very universal. That was my argument and that’s what got ‘Spy Kids’ made.”
Rodríguez launched his own cable TV channel, El Rey Network, in 2013 as an effort to create his own shows and train the next generation of filmmakers by creating “opportunities for other voices to gain experience in front of and behind the camera.” “I‘m very proud of that. We tell our own stories and I think that just helps give a more well-rounded view of the world. It helps people get an opportunity that normally wouldn’t be given.”
“We Can Be Heroes” is produced by his production company, Double R Productions alongside his sons in partnership with Netflix and will be available to stream Christmas Day. “On Dec. 25, all families will come together and watch this movie. It’s very entertaining, it has a really strong message, there’s a very organic diversity to it. I think that anyone who watches it will see themselves and their families. It also continues that mission that I’ve been trying to do since the beginning.” Rodriguez said.