For many people in my generation, Spy Kids was a formative work of early 2000s entertainment–but it was also groundbreaking in its representation of a Latinx family. Director Robert Rodriguez has recently discussed how difficult it was for him to see that vision through, in a chat on Collider’s Comic-Con@Home Directors on Directing panel.
The casting of a Latinx family was more than just Rodriguez’s vision–it was personal, with each main character named after a member of his own family. Carmen was his sister, Juni his brother, and Gregorio and Felix both uncles.
“For me, it was a big victory, and it was an important one for things to follow, to have the kids in Spy Kids be a Latin family,” Rodriguez said in the panel. “The studio was like, ‘Why are you making them Latin, though? Why don’t you just make them American?’ And I was like, ‘They are American, it’s based on my family.'”
The story was partially inspired by his uncle Gregorio, the basis for Antonio Banderas’s character, who was the only FBI agent to ever bring down two different top ten most wanted criminals. “I wanted to make a movie about my family, cause I grew up in a family of 10 kids, a big Latin family,” Rodriguez explained. “But I thought, ‘Well, I should make them spies so it’s more interesting for people. So it’s not just about my family.'”
But the director still faced a fight over casting, with the studio questioning whether diverse casting would make the film’s audience smaller. “People think only Latins will go see it,” Rodriguez explained. “I said, ‘No, I don’t think so, I mean they’re only gonna speak Spanish as a kind of code when it’s cool. And they are American, they’re just Latin.”
“It wasn’t really convincing. I finally had to come up with a good argument,” he added. “Finally, I said, ‘Okay, you don’t have to be British to enjoy James Bond. By being so specific, it becomes more universal.’ So they went with it.”
As we now know, the films were a huge success that ended up spawning three sequels, and a recent CGI animated reboot called Spy Kids: Mission Critical. Rodriguez has been back in the spotlight lately for his work directing last year’s Battle Angel Alita adaptation.