‘Can you make him white? ‘ And more absurd lessons in pitching Latino tales to Hollywood


All these years later, however , I believe Valdes was directly to want a movie made related to Aldape, who was just two decades old when he had been sentenced to death within 1982 — even though the actual physical evidence showed that another man had fatally chance the police officer.

He became a people hero for Mexicans whom felt that immigrants face injustice in the United States. Ballads had been written about his case plus blared across the airwaves on both sides of the border. Countless protesters blocked an international bridge to call attention to their plight.


As Aldape languished upon death row, his situation was taken on pro bono by attorney Scott M. Atlas, who led the team that uncovered exactly how Houston police and prosecutors had intimidated and coerced multiple witnesses, many of them teenagers, into providing false claims that Aldape was the killer.

Prosecutors also had played to anti-immigrant hostility, telling jurors they can consider Aldape’s undocumented position to determine whether he would be considered a future threat to culture.

In Apr 1997, after spending nearly all their adult life on dying row, Aldape was released and walked off a plane with Atlas in his home town of Monterrey, where these were swarmed by boisterous throngs of people.

He got a role in a Mexican telenovela called “Al Norte del Corazón, ” or “North of the Heart, ” playing himself in the soap opera about Mexican immigrants mistreated by U. S. professionals.

Four weeks after becoming a free man, the 35-year-old Aldape slammed his Volkswagen into another vehicle. He died of his injuries.

Valdes had optioned the particular rights to a manuscript authored by Atlas and another attorney who helped Aldape get his freedom.

“It was a good story, ” Valdes recalled in the recent interview. “It was such a blatant example of railroading an immigrant who found pursue the American wish and it became this United states nightmare. ”

At the time, Valdes, who started his Hollywood career being a production assistant, had worked on more than a dozen films with Clint Eastwood, including “Bird” and “Unforgiven, ” and had worked with noted filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.

For Valdes, the task was an opportunity to produce a bilingual film that he believed could have wide appeal with viewers in English and Real spanish.

But the software, he said, “required a detective approach, doing a large amount of sleuthing and finding the facts and weaving that in to a tapestry. ” Or, probably a reporter.


Valdes read scripts and considered writers for that project, but he wasn’t satisfied — which may be precisely why, when my screenplay found its way to his mailbox, he got a chance on me although I had no formal learning screenplay writing.

I signed a contract with Valdes’ film firm, Summer Magic Productions, and began poring over a number of boxes of court records along with other files Valdes provided. I actually traveled to Houston plus Monterrey, where I interviewed Aldape’s family.

During meetings at Jerry’s Famous Deli in Westwood, Valdes and I discussed revisions to the drafts I was composing. Valdes pitched the story to executives he knew on Telemundo, who were interested, however the cost of producing the film at the time — about $4 million or $5 mil — might have been beyond this of the Spanish-language network, Valdes said. He also talked to executives at Searchlight Pictures, Focus Features and HBO.

“I went to all the usual suspects, ” Valdes said. “Maybe I was naive in thinking that the networks and the studios would have to acknowledge the bilingual and Spanish-speaking audience. ”

Some management viewed the project within the narrow confines of an “immigrant story” and failed to fully appreciate the larger themes, Valdes said. Others wanted to find out whether any top talent was attached to the project. Valdes was considering Mexican directors and Spanish-speaking actors to portray Aldape.

“You can’t employ Tom Hanks or Brad Pitt to play Ricardo Aldape, ” he said.