Hands of Stone premiered Friday (Aug. 26), but the folks behind the story centered on legendary Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán had to rumble with Hollywood in order to press their way to the big screen, this according to Costa Rican producer Jay Weisleder.
After growing frustrated with the lopsided representation of Latinos in entertainment, Weisleder set out with director Jonathan Jakubowicz and Fuego Films partner Ben Silverman on the nearly impossible feat of creating a mainstream film featuring a Latino lead. Much to his dismay, Weisleder soon realized he’d embarked on a long and arduous journey, when he first pitched the idea 10 years ago.
“Every studio said no. Every single one,” he says, halfway smiling. “The only studio that gave us a shot was New Regency Pictures. They wanted to see what we could do. And when they got our first script, they decided that it was too risky for them.”
Weisleder & Co. took an interest in shifting the narrative in light of the xenophobic labels many Americans, à la Donald Trump, have subscribed to Latinos. “[It’s] not cool to keep making movies that glorify every stereotype we hate about Latinos,” later adding, “when you hear a guy like Donald Trump talking about Latinos being rapists, it’s ignorant. You don’t make comments like that to generalize a whole population of people.”
Before Trump ever had a shot at presidency, Weisleder committed to bringing Roberto Durán’s notoriety abroad. The boxing champion, who is dubbed a “Latino Muhammad Ali” became one of the greatest fighters in history after commanding the attention of American trainer Ray Arcel, but Hollywood struggled to see the value in a film focused on a positive Latino figure. In fact, studio executives suggested that Weisleder and his team rethink the entire cast. The filmmaker enlisted up-and-coming stars like Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramírez (Roberto Durán) and Cuban actress Ana de Armas (Felicidad Iglesias) for his project, but was told that Leonardo DiCaprio and Scarlett Johansson would be finer options.
Fula & Durán! 💗 With my love @edgarramirez25 while shooting Hands of Stone! Folks, @handsofstonemov will be on the theaters this August 26th!!! Can’t wait for you all to see it!!! // Con mi amor @edgarramirez25 mientras rodábamos Hands of Stone! La película estará en los cines este 26 de Agosto. Qué ganas de que la vean!!!!
A photo posted by Ana de Armas (@ana_d_armas) on
What happened next, changed the course of it all. Weisleder left to Panama and pitched the film to an array of Panamanian influencers from businessmen and-women to government officials in an effort that eventually won financial support for the production.
“Panama passed the law for creating incentives for film, something that did not exist five years prior,” he explains. “We took the opportunity when Robert DeNiro supported the whole move to Panama.”
Since then, Hands of Stone received a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival and is poised to make a monumental impression worldwide. “It’s the widest release for a Latin movie in history, a rare happy ending for what seemed like an impossible dream,” says Jakubowicz in Vulture.
While Weisleder has much to cheer about, he believes the fight for positive Latino representation in the media points to a troubling truth about Hollywood gatekeepers. “I’m excited about the film, because it’s a beautiful story,” he says emphatically. “Latinos have great stories to share with the world, [but] we need a collective effort for real change to occur.”
Words by Shanice Davis + Marjua Estevez