When does self-deprecation cross the line and become self-degradation? We’re asking ourselves that question after Sofia Vergara’s recent appearance at the 2017 Golden Globes.
When Vergara took the stage Sunday night, she proceeded to perform a bit that induced lots of eye-rolls on social media. Here’s what the highest-paid actress on TV said:
“The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has an anal tradition. I didn’t mean — they have an anus tradition. They have a tradition that they do every year of choosing a second-generation performer to assist in the presentation of the awards.”
She meant to say “annual.” Get it?
In a vacuum, the joke isn’t a big deal. Vergara is Colombian and English is her second language. Kinda makes sense, right? Except the English-is-my-second-language-so-I’m-going-to-‘hilariously’-screw-up-the-pronunciation-of-several-words-because-I-don’t-know-any-better-joke isn’t something completely unique to Vergara’s personal story. For those who have been following Latinx performers in Hollywood for decades, it’s pretty much the go-to joke for writers dealing with foreigners who have an accent — especially those from Latin America. Even the YouTube video embedded above is titled “Funny Golden Globes Blooper” because the person who uploaded it apparently couldn’t fathom Vergara being in on the joke.
Vergara didn’t write the bit, but she agreed to do it. Why? Presumably, Vergara felt it was a joke that could just as well been delivered by Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, the character she plays on “Modern Family.” On the show, Delgado-Pritchett is a trophy wife who often loses things in translation. But if you watch enough episodes of the show, it becomes clear her character has more depth that what you see on the surface.
That’s where people take issue with the bit Vergara performed. She’s not Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, but it appears she’s repeatedly expected to play that role in real life. When Vergara must constantly deliver jokes about her accent — or her appearance — we only get to see a caricature of a Latina. In real life, Vergara is an immigrant. For many years, she was a single mother. She’s a cancer survivor. She’s been nominated for four Emmys and currently reigns as the highest-paid actress on TV. She’s more than a “funny” accent.
Just a few days ago, a young Latina named Perla Nation shared a story about her father, who was inspired by Diego Luna’s role in Rogue One. Luna, who plays a rebel intelligence officer named Cassian Andor, kept his Mexican accent for the role. Nation said it made her father proud to see someone with an accent just like his starring in a major motion picture. The story went viral.
For many, it seemed like a turning point in how Hollywood could represent someone with an accent. It felt like progress. Vergara’s joke at the Golden Globes felt like a step back.