“I can be George Clooney with female parts,” says Lisa Vidal, describing her role as the heist mastermind in Righteous Thieves. Premiering March 10, the new film is essentially a Latino Ocean’s 11, with our clever burglars stealing back paintings from Nazis that stole them from Jewish families during the Holocaust.
Vidal tells Latino Rebels that her part was originally written for a man but when her friends Jolene Rodriguez and Anthony Nardolillo became producer and director respectively, they changed it for her, saying, “We don’t see enough females in charge in this type of a film.”
She took the role, describing Annabel as “the kind of character I love to play. She’s strong, she’s smart, she’s real, she’s a fighter, she’s persistent. And yet she’s very feminine in her way. She’s very vulnerable. She’s very human. And she’s a mama bear, which I am. And I just love that.”
Vidal has had a long career, trying to avoid the stereotypical roles offered to Latinas. She was in the original Miami Vice and pretty much everything since, one of those Latino faces you start seeing everywhere—including as the mom in ABC’s canceled-too-soon The Baker and the Beauty, an arc on Grey’s Anatomy, and as a lead in Lifetime’s woman-cop show, The Division.
During her decades in the business, she’s seen some progress in the industry but not enough.
“What has changed is the power that we have to have more visibility,” she said, citing the ways Latinx people have and continue to organize for more representation. “Unfortunately, I still find the opportunities are not there… The contributions that Latinos have made to this country, to the world, are not celebrated. We’re not telling those stories. The scientists, the contractors, the artists—there’re so many stories to tell that are not being told. And I really feel that those are important stories to tell, not only for our own history, but for the world to see. This is who Latinos really are.”
Vidal’s tired of “the negative stereotype that’s consistently perpetuated… in film and television: cartels, drugs, trafficking. All the stuff that, really don’t make us look very good.”
So while Righteous Thieves obviously centers on robbers, they’re more Robin Hoods than the bad guys, stealing to right a historical wrong.
The fact that they’re almost all Latino —only one of the heist crew members is Anglo— was purely coincidence. “We didn’t really think about that,” Vidal recalled. “We were actually excited to do a film that was just about these people. We’re not making a point that we’re Latino in any way. We just happen to be, which is really exciting.”
As a group, they appear to have fun together, staging action scenes and laughing at each other’s antics.
This Latinx cast varies in skin tone, too. This isn’t a film with one definition of Latinidad but rather one that depicts Black and brown people working together, forming families, friendships, and romances.
That this Latino gang is working cross-culturally with the Jewish community is also significant for Vidal, whose husband is Jewish and who calls her kids “half Jewish.” And it’s rare to see Latinx people in this type of role, existing and collaborating in a multicultural world that values us equally as other groups.
There’s power and joy in this silly heist film. Righteous Thieves puts Latinx people at its center but doesn’t spend time on their identity. Instead, Annabel and crew are too busy embarrassing Nazis, hacking computers, and executing their outrageous schemes to think much about Latinidad. It’s a nice palate cleanser, and it’s fun to watch Vidal embody the Clooney role with the swagger and star power that goes with it.
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