Top Gun: Maverick isn’t exactly a Latinx film. It’s all about aging white guys, the adventures they have left, and the military-industrial complex that’s given them the toys to play with along the way. That’s not to say the film isn’t good —it is— or that it doesn’t have anything to say to our community—it does. After all, Latinos make up the fastest-growing segment in the U.S. military. And, of course, we age and change just like everyone else.
That said, this is Tom Cruise’s film, populated by Hollywood’s preferred rainbow of supporting characters —a.k.a. just one representative from the non-white-guy subpopulations, and that includes the special interest group of over half the population, otherwise known as women— here comprising the select flight crew of the Navy’s “best of the best.” I was happy to see Insecure’s Jay Ellis in there, disappointed to learn that our resident woman “Phoenix” is not Latina (actress Monica Barbaro is Italian), and then pleased again to see Danny Ramirez as Lt. Mickey “Fanboy” Garcia. His part isn’t exactly blink-and-you’ll-miss-it but it’s not big either.
Still, it’s nice for non-white Latinx people to be in there, part of this big, expansive Hollywood legend—Latinx people are not totally invisible after all! And sitting down (virtually) with Ramirez, he struck me as a good representative of our community: humble, funny, and proud all at once.
Ramirez is clearly a fan—of Cruise, Top Gun, and the group that made the film. During our short chat, he dropped the word “greatest” a lot, declaring that Top Gun: Maverick is “one of the best films ever made” and he’s “would die on that hill.” Part of what so impressed him was Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski’s commitment to detail, authenticity, and hard work. Ramirez and the rest of the group learned about the science behind the planes, took “40-plus hours” of flight training, and filmed their fight sequences in real planes moving at high speeds.
Hype-man that he is, Ramirez joked that everyone would relate to his weapon systems officer because we’d all walk away as “fanboys” of the film. Originally conceived as a sort of generic fan —Star Trek maybe— Fanboy got a more detailed backstory through conversations between Ramirez and Kosinski. Ramirez imagined a locker room scene where his peers find a boy band CD in his stuff and begin teasing him about it. Which band? Ramirez hasn’t decided for sure but he’s leaning toward BTS.
Jokes aside, Ramirez takes his responsibility seriously, noting that “as a kid, I’d look up in in the movie theater and not see anyone that looked like me or rarely see someone.” Today, he knows “I’m not just representing myself, I’m representing millions of people,” and he’s particularly proud of the Latinx Navy aviators he met as part of his preparation. It’s for them that he knew he had to “leave it all on the line.”
This earnestness rings true when you look back on Ramirez’s career of playing Latinx characters. I recognized him as the older (more successful and classically handsome) brother of Ruby on Netflix’s brown and Black On My Block. He also played 1st Lt Joaquín Torres in Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and is set to appear in AMC’s upcoming Tales of the Walking Dead—all of which hopefully set him up for more and more nuanced parts.
Still, it’s hard to beat being in Top Gun, even in a small role. After seeing the 1986 film as a sophomore in college, Ramirez thought to himself, “if they ever make a sequel, I would love for there to be someone that I could play.” He carried that thought with him as he set out on his acting career and roles started opening up. When he saw the audition, Ramirez couldn’t help but think “I manifested this.” And here we are.
A writer and activist, Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. She’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. Twitter: @cescobarandrade