Home Written work ‘Call Me Kat’ actor Christopher Rivas talks about his book ‘Brown Enough’

‘Call Me Kat’ actor Christopher Rivas talks about his book ‘Brown Enough’


On the bookshelf

Brown Enough: True Stories of Love, Violence, the Student Loan Crisis, Hollywood, Race, Family and Success in America

By Christophe Rivas
Townhouse: 240 pages, $25

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Christopher Rivas is an actor, playwright, podcaster, PhD student and now author. But he knows people often see him — and judge him — first as a Latino. Rivas is both proud of his heritage and frustrated at being defined by it in a country where whites hold power and conversations about race tend to be about blacks and whites.

Rivas’ book covers all of this and more, as the subtitle suggests: “Brown Enough: True Stories About Love, Violence, the Student Loan Crisis, Hollywood, Race, Familia, and Making it in America.”

“My writing style is ‘Go’,” says Los Angeles-based Rivas, explaining the stuffy title and the essays within it.

The book explores her self-doubt, body dysmorphia, and anger at a system that constantly makes life harder for people of color. A regular on the “Call Me Kat” series, Rivas is open about the nose job he got before landing the role because a white manager told him it would improve his chances of being cast.

Rivas examines representation in Hollywood but goes beyond the usual talking points, just as he does in his other works. He wrote a one-man show about Porfirio Rubirosa, a Dominican playboy and assassin, who some say inspired James Bond — typical, Rivas says, of how everything is redirected and refracted through a white gaze. He has since created a podcast on the subject and hopes to direct a feature film on Rubirosa.

Although he is part Dominican and part Colombian, Rivas grew up in New York and only recently began learning Spanish. In the book, he calls the American dream a “pyramid scheme.” In a recent video interview, he said, “America can seem like an onslaught to some people.” In “Brown Enough,” he charts his path to finding his voice as a writer, actor, and American, a journey he hopes can help readers follow their own path.

Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You write about the importance for you to see John Leguizamo on stage; you’re talking about casting an anti-invisibility spell. How important is true representation?

The whole book is about being seen. Unfortunately, that often means movies and television, but the art world is predominantly white, and the decision makers in most worlds, the signatories of the checks, are white. I want to get big checks, but things won’t change until the signatories of the checks change.

You also explore racism and colorism in the countries your family is from. How important is understanding your past to how you deal with daily life here?

Knowing my full story is crucial. It is important to know what systemic issues we are committed to. It’s beneficial for us to take radical responsibility, to know why your grandmother felt that way about certain things or your mother told you. It helps you understand why you do what you do, why all these women straighten their hair, for example. It precedes you; all the trauma is woven into you. There is a lot of distress to be done.

Did writing the book help you shake off the need for white gaze? Or does being an actor mean it never goes away?

I may still deal with that in Hollywood, but now I feel like I’m able to stand up or talk more. I am more aware of what I am participating in and how I am subtly transforming to meet someone else’s needs. I feel safer with myself, my voice, and my space, and I know it’s getting bigger.

In the book, you use that voice to confront individuals, like a photographer who calls a Latina he doesn’t know “hot.” It’s exhausting ?

Sometimes I can’t help it. It’s just in my nature. I’ve written about things that won’t get good responses and I’d like to discuss each of those people. But I agree on saving energy. It’s about finding a balance.

I was just at a photo shoot and the hair and makeup artist was a wonderful white woman. We started talking about photography, she said, “We have a photography group in LA, you should join. There are a few Spaniards in it. She kept saying that, but I had nothing to do. She was really genuine – she was also trying to learn Spanish. That’s the difference with microaggressions. Sometimes when you are asked “Where are you from”, the person is simply trying to connect.

People of color are amazing mathematicians. We have to solve problems in an instant: Who is it, what situation am I in, am I going to make things uncomfortable, is it worth it? We do crazy algebra and it can be a waste of energy. But the little things matter. If you’re emotional about saying something, it might be worth it, because the little things add up.

Will writing this book and finding your voice make you a better actor?

My first answer is, “Wait, I’m already a very good actor. [Laughs.]

Maybe I can do more on my own, but there is something that needs to be given from the writers room. I was on a TV show and there was nobody brown. There were two blacks and nine whites. It doesn’t match. I want a richness of language in the characters that you often don’t see in non-white characters – they’re not as specific and quirky.

That’s something Hollywood can get away with — giving people of color the occasional speaking role and saying, “We did it. But it’s about who is writing those roles and telling those stories. So more and more I want to be the one hiding behind the scenes. The change I want will only happen when I can hire someone and give them an opportunity.