Director Robert Rodriguez Says He Had to Fight for Latinx Representation In ‘Spy Kids’

If the studio had its way, the 2001 movie Spy Kids might have looked a lot different. Director Robert Rodriguez revealed that he always envisioned the film’s family of super-spies as Latinx, but that some questioned that choice, worrying it would alienate U.S. audiences. 

Robert Rodriguez wanted to make a movie inspired by his own family 

Robert Rodriguez
Robert Rodriguez | Vera Anderson/WireImage

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On July 23, Rodriguez appeared in the pre-recorded Comic-Con@Home panel “Directors on Directing,” along with Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski and Jurassic World: Dominion’s Colin Trevorrow. All three were asked to share a time they’d scored what they saw as an important creative victory.

“For me it was a big victory, and it was an important one … to have the kids in Spy Kids be a Latin family,” Rodriguez said. “The studio was like, ‘Why are you making them Latin, though, why don’t you just make them American?’ I was like, ‘They are American, they’re based on my family.’”

The Antonio Banderas character was based on Rodriguez’s FBI agent uncle

Rodriguez shared that Gregorio, the character played by Antonio Banderas in the film, was based on his uncle Gregorio Rodriguez, an FBI agent who took down two criminals on the most-wanted list. Other characters, including Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Felix (Cheech Marin) were also named after his family members. 

“I wanted to make a movie about my family, because I grew up in a family with 10 kids, a big Latin family,” the Sin City director explained. “But I thought I should make it a spy [movie] so it’s more interesting.”

Spy Kids, which was produced by Harvey Weinstein’s Dimension Films, made nearly $150 million at the box office and resulted in multiple sequels. But when he was pitching the film, Rodriguez said he had to “put the flag in … and say this is how it’s going to be done,” to get the movie made with the cast he wanted. 

How Rodriguez sold the studio on ‘Spy Kids’   

Rodriguez explained he had to get creative to convince a reluctant studio to sign off on the film. When decision-makers expressed concern that making the main characters Latinx would mean a smaller audience for the film, he drew a comparison to the most famous spy movie franchise in history. 

“I finally had to come up with a good argument,” he said. “Finally, I said, ‘OK, you don’t have to be British to enjoy James Bond. By being so specific, it becomes more universal.’ So they went with it.”

The director added that if it weren’t for his personal connection to the story and commitment to diverse casting, he might have caved to the studio’s initial request to make the movie more “American.” 

“If I wasn’t Latin, I would have given up the fight,” he said. “Because I would have been, ‘OK, I just want to get the movie made. Because it was based on my family was the only reason I kept the fight up.”

Spy Kids was popular with kids of all backgrounds, but Rodriguez said it was especially important for those who normally didn’t see themselves represented on screen.

“For those who are Latin, in particular, it means so much,” he said. “It changes their whole future about what is possible.”