The movies I made, I wasn’t even trying to make them diverse. It’s just when you’re a filmmaker of any ethnicity, you’re going to write from your own experience. So all my scripts started with “Hispanic character…” then I’d be like, “Oh, gosh, now I have to find an actor to play this,” and then I’d find there were no actors in Hollywood. It was puzzling.
When I was doing “Spy Kids,” the Weinsteins asked me — not that they were being jerks at all, they were just wondering — "Why are you making the characters Hispanic? It doesn’t make any sense, isn’t this supposed to be for everybody?" “Well, it’s based on my family.”
They’d just never seen it. Hollywood is very much… no one wants to do it first, because what if they screw up? If someone else does it first and it’s successful, then that’s something we can imitate. It just makes business sense for people not to constantly be putting themselves out there.
[Weinstein] said that, and it really put me on the spot to come up with a reason. “Why not just give them American names? It’s America, it will confuse people.” I said “They are American — they’re based on my family, so they’re Hispanic, but they’re going to be speaking in English. It’s going to be for everybody.” But no one had done it before, so there was nothing to point to.
"But why?” They couldn’t understand why I was doing it that way, and I couldn’t come up with a good answer. And I realized, wow, if I wasn’t Hispanic, I would have folded, I would have changed the name. That’s why there weren’t more scripts like that. Somebody would have asked them at some point “Why are you doing it that way?”
Finally, I came up with the right answer. I said “You don’t have to be British to watch James Bond. Making him British actually makes him more universal because it makes him very specific.” And they were like, okay, that makes sense. And we did it, and “Spy Kids” was a big hit. And those who were Hispanic, it really meant a lot to them. People have come up to me for a lot of years since and said “You changed my kids’ whole life. They see little kids who are Hispanic that are spies and they saw your name as the writer and director and you changed their idea of what their future could be.” The ripple effects of that one movie were enormous.